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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, in our session last week we started to look at the doctrine called limited atonement and you said that you wanted to follow John Murray’s outline for covering the atonement. He began by noting that all of Christ’s work could be subsumed under the rubric of obedience.

Dr. Spencer: And that is a critically important point since, as we read in Romans 8:29, we were “predestined to be conformed to the likeness”[1] of Jesus Christ. If his whole life’s work can be properly characterized by obedience, and Murray is certainly correct in saying that it can, and if we are to be conformed to his likeness, then it must also be true that our lives should be characterized by obedience.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a perfectly rational conclusion, and we could add that our obedience should be increasing all the time.

Dr. Spencer: We could add that yes. All true Christians are in the process of being sanctified. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

And, in Christ’s great high-priestly prayer in John Chapter 17, he says to the Father, as we read in Verse 4, that “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” And we are told in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” The conclusion is obvious. To glorify God, which is our purpose in life, we must obediently complete the work he has given us to do, just as Christ himself did.

Marc Roby: And this reinforces the point we made at length in Session 121 that true Christians walk in what Paul called the obedience of faith[2].

And, after presenting the obedience of Christ as the “comprehensive category under which the various aspects of Biblical teaching may be subsumed”, Murray went on to say that “The more specific categories in terms of which the Scripture sets forth the atoning work of Christ are sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption.”[3] So, how would you like to begin to look at these categories?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s take them one at a time and begin with the first one he lists; namely, sacrifice. I first want to show that Murray is correct in saying that the Bible presents Christ’s work of atonement as a sacrifice and then explore a bit what that means. If we turn to the book of Hebrews, we find a clear presentation of this idea. In Hebrews Chapter Nine the author speaks about the Old Testament sacrificial system. He describes the setup of the tabernacle and refers to the inner room or Most Holy Place, which contained the famous ark of the covenant.

Marc Roby: That ark contained the stone tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And our listeners may remember that the high point of the Jewish year is now, and has always been, the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. On that day during the Old Testament period, the high priest went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled blood on the cover of the ark, which was called the atonement cover.

Marc Roby: And it is worth noting that only the high priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place and even he was only allowed to do so once a year.

Dr. Spencer: That is important. This was the most sacred duty the high priest had. Remember that the Most Holy Place was in the tabernacle, which was also called the Tent of Meeting since that is where God said he would meet with the representative of his people.[4] The symbolism is that when God, who said he would appear in a cloud above the ark,[5] looked down at the ark, he would see the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the cover and that would block his view of the law, which his people had broken.[6]

In any event, in Hebrews 9:7-9 we read that “only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.”

Marc Roby: In other words, the Old Testament sacrificial system was not ultimately capable of dealing with our sin problem. It pointed toward a greater reality.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the point. And the writer of Hebrews explains this. In Hebrews 9:11-14 we read, “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”

Marc Roby: That clearly tells us that Jesus “offered himself” to God, which means he was the sacrifice, the ultimate Passover lamb. In fact, in John 1:29 we are told that when John the Baptist saw Jesus he said to his disciples, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Dr. Spencer: And the writer of Hebrews also uses the word sacrifice. In Hebrews 9:26 we read that Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” And the Greek word used here for sacrifice is θυσία (thusia), the normal word used to describe the Old Testament sacrifices.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think we have established that Christ’s atoning work can be described as a sacrifice.

Dr. Spencer: And, in addition, we have shown how the Jews at the time of Christ would have understood that idea. They would have understood it in the context of the Old Testament sacrificial system.

Marc Roby: Which involved far more than just the sacrifices performed on the Day of Atonement. Sacrifices were a normal part of worship in the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: They most definitely were. The animals offered in sacrifice were intended to be received in place of the person bringing the offering, in other words, they were substitutes. God instructed his people through Moses how the sacrifices were to be made. In Leviticus 1:4 we read that the person bringing a sacrifice “is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.”

Marc Roby: This is the doctrine called substitutionary atonement. By laying his hands on the animal, the sinner was symbolically transferring his sins to that animal.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. It was the person who had sinned and deserved to die, but God graciously provided this means of atoning for his sin. It is bloody and disgusting, especially to modern people like us who purchase our meat in shrink-wrapped containers at the grocery store, but it was meant to be a reminder of the seriousness of sin and the fact that it must be punished.

And, as Murray notes, “the Old Testament sacrifices were basically expiatory. This means that they had reference to sin and guilt. Sin involves a certain liability, a liability arising from the holiness of God, on the one hand, and the gravity of sin as the contradiction of that holiness, on the other. The sacrifice was the divinely instituted provision whereby the sin might be covered and the liability to divine wrath and curse removed.”[7]

Marc Roby: And, as you noted, this provision is gracious. It would have been just of God to demand the life of every sinner.

Dr. Spencer: In which case there wouldn’t be anyone left. But God’s plan is to create and to purify a people for himself. And this is the way he has chosen to do it. The Old Testament sacrificial system was incapable of ultimately solving our sin problem, it pointed to Christ.

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

Marc Roby: The logic of those statements is impeccable. If the Old Testament animal sacrifices had been ultimately efficacious, they would have stopped. There would not have been any need to repeat them.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the logic is unassailable. And the writer goes on to contrast the limited nature of the Old Testament sacrifices with the ultimate efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice. We read in Hebrews 10:10 that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Marc Roby: I like that phrase, “once for all.” It reminds me of what Jesus himself declared from the cross. We read in John 19:30 that “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Christ’s work of redemption was finished.

Dr. Spencer: That is important. In one sense, there is still work to do since God has not yet called all of those whom he has chosen to repentance and faith. And he has not yet finished working in those whom he has called, we are still in the process of being sanctified. But in another sense, the job is finished. There is no further need of sacrifice. The work of redemption is complete, all that is left is the application of that work to individual believers.

Marc Roby: It is wonderful to know that the end is absolutely certain. God’s plan will be executed without fault. We can be absolutely sure of all of his promises.

Dr. Spencer: And of all of his threats. There truly is only one thing needful in this life, and that is to come to know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord. All of God’s enemies will be eternally destroyed and all of his people will enjoy eternal life in his presence. The best bumper sticker I’ve ever seen simply said “I know what happens in the end, God wins!”

Marc Roby: I like that.

Dr. Spencer: There is, however, one more important point to make about Christ’s atoning work being presented in the Bible as a work of sacrifice.

Marc Roby: What point is that?

Dr. Spencer: That Christ was not just the sacrifice, he was also the priest. John Murray wrote, “That Christ’s work was to offer himself a sacrifice for sin implies, however, a complementary truth too frequently overlooked. It is that, if Christ offered himself as a sacrifice, he was also a priest. And it was as a priest that he offered himself. He was not offered up by another; he offered himself. This is something that could not be exemplified in the ritual of the Old Testament. … in Christ we have this unique combination that serves to exhibit the uniqueness of his sacrifice. The transcendent character of his priestly office, and the perfection inherent in his priestly offering.”[8]

Marc Roby: As we noted last time, Christ was not put to death against his will, he was actively obeying the Father in allowing himself to be crucified.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an amazing truth. And it makes me think of the best human illustration I’ve ever heard about God’s plan of salvation.

Marc Roby: What illustration is that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I think it was R.C. Sproul that I heard tell this story, but I don’t know exactly where I heard it. In any event, it goes something like this.

There was an earthly king who discovered that someone had stolen something very precious to him. So he issued an edict that a search should be made throughout his kingdom to find the object. And, if the person who stole it was identified, he specified that the punishment would be 40 lashes with a serious whip.

Marc Roby: That’s a very harsh punishment.

Dr. Spencer: Well, as I said, the object that was stolen was precious to the king, and we must remember that the offense was against the king, not just against some ordinary citizen. But to continue with the story, when the object was found everyone was shocked to learn that it was the king’s own very old mother who had taken it.

Marc Roby: That would put the king in a very difficult situation given the punishment he had decreed for the offender.

Dr. Spencer: It would indeed. In fact, the king’s mother was so old and frail that 40 lashes would undoubtedly kill her. But the king had issued his edict and it would be patently unjust of him to change the punishment solely because the offender turned out to be someone he personally knew and loved.

Marc Roby: So what did he do?

Dr. Spencer: He did the only just thing, he ordered that she be given the 40 lashes. And you must picture the scene. The king’s men take his frail old mother and tie her to the post, and the man with the whip steps back and looks to the king for the order to begin the sentence.

The king does, in fact, order that the sentence be carried out, but at the same time he wraps himself around his mother so that the blows all fall on him and his mother’s life is spared. By doing this, the king could demonstrate both his justice in making sure that the appropriate punishment was meted out and his great mercy in taking the punishment himself in order to spare his mother.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful illustration. Jesus had always had perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and it is impossible for us to imagine the pain he endured when the Holy Spirit abandoned him and the Father poured out his wrath on him.

Dr. Spencer: We get some small indication of the pain from Jesus’ cry from the cross. We read in Matthew 27:46 that when Christ was on the cross, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

Marc Roby: And Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, where King David uttered the same cry.

Dr. Spencer: But in the case of King David, the reality is that God never completely abandoned him. Whereas God did abandon Jesus while he poured out the full force of his wrath upon him.

We need to recognize how terrible sin is. In order to solve our sin problem and save us, it required God the Son to become incarnate and it required that the perfect fellowship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit had enjoyed for all eternity to be broken for a time on the cross. It is simply not possible for us to fully grasp this. It is the ultimate possible expression of love, not just on the part of the incarnate Jesus, but on the part of the infinite, eternal, triune God.

Marc Roby: That is incredible to consider. Are we done with looking at the fact that the Bible presents Christ’s work of atonement as being a sacrifice?

Dr. Spencer: Yes we are. So we are ready to move on to the second category Murray mentions; the Bible also represents Christ’s work of atonement as being a propitiation.

Marc Roby: And that will have to wait for our next session. But now I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would 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] See Romans 1:5

[3] J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 19

[4] See Ex 25:22

[5] See Lev 16:2

[6] See P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 150

[7] Murray, op. cit., pg. 25

[8] Ibid, pg. 28

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, last week we presented the wonderful truth that God will see to it that all of his elect will persevere in the faith. And so we have now covered four of the five points of reformed faith summarized by the acrostic TULIP: total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. I assume we are going to move on to discuss limited atonement next, right?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but I also want to remind our listeners that these five points do not fully cover the biblical doctrine of soteriology. We started with them because they are often points of contention between different evangelical believers.

Marc Roby: Very well, so how would you like to begin looking at the doctrine of limited atonement.

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin with what Jesus himself said. In Mark 10:45 we read that he told his disciples that “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[1] Also, in John 10:14-15 Jesus said that “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” And the apostle Paul wrote, in Romans 4:25, that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” And then in Hebrews 9:26 we read that Jesus “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” And in Hebrews 9:27-28 we are told that “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people”.

There are many more Scriptures we could look at, but that is enough to establish the fact that the reason the second person of the Holy Trinity became incarnate in the man Jesus, was to serve as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of his people.

Marc Roby: In fact, after Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion, he was speaking about his impending sacrificial death and said, in John 12:27, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Jesus knew what was going to happen to him and he knew why. He was preparing to bear the sins of all of his elect and suffer the wrath of God in our stead as had been foretold in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 53:5 we read the famous verse, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” And then a bit later in Isaiah 53:10 we read that “it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.”

Marc Roby: That is astounding to consider. We are the ones who rebelled against God and sinned, but it was the Lord’s will to cause Jesus to suffer and to make him a guilt offering in our stead.

Dr. Spencer: The atonement is central to the Christian faith. Many modern professing Christians seem to have lost this focus. They ask “what would Jesus do?” in different situations, but they are only thinking of him as a kind-hearted teacher of morals, which misses the mark by a wide margin. As the angel of the Lord told Joseph in Matthew 1:21, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

We all deserve hell and Jesus came to suffer and die in our place so that we can come to be with him in heaven. Jesus is our Savior and Lord, not just a good moral teacher.

Marc Roby: Well, given the importance of the atonement, we should probably provide a definition. Everyone has some idea, of course, from everyday usage what it means to atone for something. If I forget my wife’s birthday, which I would never do of course, but if I did, I could, for example, atone for that lapse by buying her some roses and taking her out for a nice dinner. But what is a more precise theological definition of atonement?

Dr. Spencer: Well, J.I. Packer wrote that “Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.”[2]

I think that is a pretty good definition that contains two important points. First, we have offended God. We have done wrong and satisfaction must be paid. Second, we are alienated from God, and he from us, and we need to have that relationship restored. But there is another aspect we could include here, and that is the idea of redemption. We are all by nature “slaves to sin”, as Paul tells us in Romans 6:17 and the atoning death of Christ redeems us and sets us free from that bondage.

Therefore, I want to look at the topic of atonement using the outline presented in John Murray’s excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied.

Marc Roby: And how does Murray define atonement?

Dr. Spencer: He notes that “The more specific categories in terms of which the Scripture sets forth the atoning work of Christ are sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption.”[3]

Marc Roby: Well, we have our work cut out for us in looking at each of those terms.

Dr. Spencer: That we do, but before we get there, Murray makes another point that will probably come as a surprise to most people, but is extremely important in terms of the practical application of the doctrine of salvation.

Marc Roby: What point is that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, immediately after giving the list of specific categories for considering the atonement, he writes, “But we may properly ask if there is not some more inclusive rubric under which these more specific categories may be comprehended.” And then he answers the question by saying, “The Scripture regards the work of Christ as one of obedience” and Murray says that obedience can be “viewed as the unifying or integrating principle.”[4]

Marc Roby: Yes, you were right. That is an unexpected turn in considering Christ’s work of atonement.

Dr. Spencer: Well, stick with me for a few minutes and I think it will all make sense and the importance of his point will become apparent.

Marc Roby: Very well, please continue.

Dr. Spencer: Murray begins by pointing to Isaiah 53, from which we have already quoted. In that passage, which actually begins in Isaiah 52:13, Jesus is called the Lord’s servant.

Marc Roby: In fact that passage is the most famous of what are sometimes called Isaiah’s “servant songs”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And Murray’s point is simply that Christ’s work is described there as that of an obedient servant. He then also quotes John 6:38, where Christ says, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” And Paul wrote, in Romans 5:19, that “just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Which obviously refers to Adam’s disobedience and to Christ’s obedience.

Marc Roby: And what a contrast that is! If we are still in Adam we are bound for hell, but if we are in Christ we are bound for heaven.

Dr. Spencer: Those are the only two options. We are represented by one or the other. But let’s get back to examining the Scriptures that support Murray’s contention that Christ’s work can be subsumed under the rubric of obedience. In the famous passage about Christ’s humility in Philippians 2, we read in Verse 8 that “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” And, finally, Murray cites Hebrews 5:8, which says that “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered”, which doesn’t imply that Christ was ever disobedient. It simply means that as the man Jesus grew he was tasked by the Father with greater and greater works and learned from each one of them how to do the Father’s will with perfect obedience.

Marc Roby: And when we speak about Christ’s perfect obedience, it is humbling to consider that in Romans 8:29 we are told that we have been “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Dr. Spencer: That is one of the reasons Murray’s point about Christ’s obedience is of great practical importance. It puts the lie to the idea that we can have Jesus Christ as our Savior but go on living a disobedient life. We all sin, but if our lives are characterized by disobedience to God, then we have not been born again. You will know a tree by its fruit. But, let’s get back to the obedience of Christ as the rubric under which we consider his atoning work.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: Murray points out that Christians sometimes improperly speak about Christ’s life as his “active” obedience and his death as being his “passive” obedience. But Christ was actively obeying the Father even in his death. The proper use of those terms derives from the fact that, as Murray says, “the law of God has both penal sanctions and positive demands.”[5] When Christ allowed himself to bear the penal sanctions, that was his passive obedience and when he fulfilled the positive demands of the law, that was his active obedience.

The key point here is that, as Murray writes, “The death upon the cross, as the climactic requirement of the price of redemption, was discharged as the supreme act of obedience; it was not death resistlessly inflicted but death upon the cross willingly and obediently wrought.”[6]

Marc Roby: Which reminds me of John 10:17-18 where we are told Jesus said, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the point. Murray wrote that “When we speak of obedience we are thinking not merely of formal acts of accomplishment but also of the disposition, will, determination, and volition which lie back of and are registered in these formal acts.”[7]

Marc Roby: In other words, our attitude matters! If we are grumbling in our hearts as we do what we are told to do, we aren’t really obeying.

Dr. Spencer: That is the point. And now we finally get to the conclusion of this discussion about obedience. Murray wrote that “It is obedience that enlisted all the resources of his perfect humanity, obedience that resided in his person, and obedience of which he is ever the perfect embodiment. … And we become the beneficiaries of it, indeed the partakers of it, by union with him. It is this that serves to advertise the significance of that which is the central truth of all soteriology, namely, union and communion with Christ.”[8]

If you look at God’s overall plan you see that he created Adam and Eve perfect, but with the ability to disobey. It was that disobedience, and the resulting disobedience of their natural offspring, that brought all of the troubles we see in this fallen world. And so God’s plan to fix this problem begins with the perfect obedience of Christ and we become partakers of that obedience by being united to Christ by faith.

Marc Roby: And we then demonstrate, or prove, that we are united to him by living obedient lives ourselves, albeit imperfectly.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And when we get to discussing the application of redemption to us as individual believers by going through the steps in what is called the order of salvation, we will see that our union with Christ is not just one step along the way, it is the foundation for the whole process.

Marc Roby: And according to the apostle Paul, there was a sense in which believers were united with Christ even before the creation of the world. In Ephesians 1:4 he wrote that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

Dr. Spencer: What a wonderful phrase that is, “in him”, or “in Christ”. The phrase “in Christ” shows up 89 times in our NIV Bibles and the phrase “in him” also shows up many more times with the same meaning. Union with Christ surely is, as Murray claims a number of times, “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”[9]

Because of our depraved sinful natures, we are incapable of saving ourselves. Jesus Christ came to save his people and it is only in union with him that we can be saved. As we read in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Marc Roby: And the fact that God chose us in Christ shows that God this plan of salvation in mind from all eternity. It is not something he came up with because things didn’t work out the way he had planned.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. In making his glory manifest, God created mankind knowing that the fall would occur, but also knowing that he was going to save some from that fall for the praise of his glorious grace, while leaving others to justly suffer for their sins to the praise of his glorious justice. And there was agreement from all eternity within the Trinity that the Son would become incarnate and accomplish redemption for his people.

Every aspect of a believer’s salvation is accomplished in union with Christ. Not only were we chosen in Christ, but we are also saved in Christ.

Marc Roby: Ephesians 2:10 famously says that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s wonderful, we were “created in Christ”, meaning our new birth was in union with Christ. And we also live the Christian life in union with Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:4-5 Paul wrote that “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge”. Paul also wrote, in Galatians 2:20, that “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Marc Roby: And Christians also die in Christ. Paul wrote in Romans 14:8 that “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Dr. Spencer: And he also wrote, in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 that “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” We will talk more about union with Christ later, but I first want to move on to discuss the specific categories, as Murray calls them, under which the Scriptures discuss the atonement of Christ; namely, sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to doing that, but we are out of time for today, so we’ll have to pick this up next time. Before we sign off, I’d like 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.I. Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale House Pub., 1993, pg. 134

[3] J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 19

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, pg. 21

[6] Ibid, pg. 22

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid, pg. 24

[9] Ibid, e.g., pg. 170

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: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, in our previous sessions we have established the importance of salvation and explained that we can’t save ourselves. What would you like to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to review what we’ve covered by means of a syllogism. This will first reinforce one last time this phenomenally important point and it will also lead nicely into our discussion of the nature of salvation.

Marc Roby: Alright. For those listeners who don’t what a syllogism is, it is a formal argument that uses deductive logic to arrive at a conclusion based on two or more premises.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And syllogisms are useful because they have been studied extensively since the time of Aristotle and if you construct one properly the conclusion necessarily follows if the premises are true. The classic example used in a logic course goes like this. The first premise is that all men are mortal. The second premise is that Socrates is a man. And the conclusion is that, therefore, Socrates is mortal. This syllogism is a valid syllogism, meaning that the conclusion is true if the premises are true.

Marc Roby: And I think it is obvious that the premises are true in this case.

Dr. Spencer: That they are. And a valid syllogism with true premises is called a sound syllogism, or a sound argument. If I have made a sound argument, then the conclusion I have reached is guaranteed by the rules of logic to be true.[1]

Marc Roby: Alright. So what is the syllogism that you have in mind to review what we’ve covered so far?

Dr. Spencer: My syllogism is more complicated than the simple example I just gave, but it is still relatively easy to follow, it has four premises. The first premise is that every human being will be judged by Christ. This premise is supported by 2 Corinthians 5:10, which says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”[2] The second premise is that based on that judgment, every human being will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. This premise is supported by Matthew 25:46, where Jesus tells us that the wicked “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And by “eternal life” Jesus means heaven.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he does. It is the only alternative to hell, which is eternal death. The third premise in my syllogism is that you must be perfectly righteous to be in heaven. This premise is supported by 2 Peter 3:13, which says, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” We could supply other verses to buttress this argument, but the righteousness spoken of there is absolute; there will not be any sin in heaven. And the fourth and final premise is that no human being is righteous. This premise is supported by Romans 3:10, where Paul tells us, “There is no one righteous, not even one”.

Marc Roby: Now, let me restate all four of your premises without the biblical support just so that we can have them clearly in mind. First, every human being will be judged by Christ. Second, based on that judgment, every human being will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. Third, you must be perfectly righteous to be in heaven. And, fourth, no human being is righteous.

Dr. Spencer: And the resulting conclusion from these premises is that no one will make it to heaven, or alternatively, everyone will go to hell.

Marc Roby: I don’t like that conclusion.

Dr. Spencer: And neither did God. But God is the God of logic and reason. He is not bound by them as though they were some external authority whom he must obey, but he himself is logic and reason and will not do anything contrary to them because it would violate his nature. As the theologian John Frame wrote, “The laws of logic are an aspect of his own character.”[3] And so, God had to solve this problem. From a human perspective, the syllogism I gave is sound. If God doesn’t intervene in some way, we are all bound for hell.

Marc Roby: But, praise God, he did intervene.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he did. He made a way for us to be saved and he did it without violating his own nature, which is perfectly holy and just and therefore requires both that we be perfectly holy and that our sin be punished.

Marc Roby: Those are the two problems you mentioned last time. We need our sins atoned for and we need perfect righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And God solved that problem by allowing our sins to be imputed to Christ and his righteousness to be imputed to us.

Marc Roby: Which is the double transaction we have mentioned a number of times and about which Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he said that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. Paul also tells us about God’s solution to the problem in his letter to the Romans. First, in Romans 1:17 he wrote, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” This verse tells us that there is a righteousness that comes from God, which means it is a perfect righteousness, and that it is “by faith”, which refers to the fact that we appropriate this righteousness in some way by faith.

Paul then speaks about this righteousness from God again in Chapter Three.

Marc Roby: Which is the chapter where he lays out the devastating argument that we are all sinners and do not seek God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And he concludes that argument in Romans 3:20 by saying, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

Marc Roby: And when we become aware of our own sinfulness we also know, as Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, that “the wages of sin is death”. And that sounds just as bad as the conclusion from your syllogism.

Dr. Spencer: It is just as bad. But the very next verse begins in the English with a most wonderful word, the conjunction “but”, which introduces something that contrasts with the conclusion just reached. In Romans 3:21-22 we read, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

And we have to appreciate how significant that opening conjunction, “but” is! In spite of the universal condemnation logically required by our sin and God’s holiness, Paul says “But now”. This is wonderful news! “But now” God is giving us his divine solution to our unsolvable problem. And he tells us again that there is a righteousness from God and that it comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

Marc Roby: And so we see the truth of what Jesus said in Luke 18:27, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Dr. Spencer: And in Romans 3 Paul explains this further. Let me read Verses 22-26. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Marc Roby: Those verses say a lot!

Dr. Spencer: They most certainly do, but for the moment let’s focus on the last thing Paul wrote. He said that God did this “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” In other words, God has not denied himself, he stays faithful to his own nature as the just God, and yet he is able to justify those who have faith in Jesus, even though there is no difference, they have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He preserves his justice because our sins are punished. But it is Jesus Christ who receives that punishment. He is, as Paul wrote, our “sacrifice of atonement”. Or we could say he is the propitiation for our sins.

Marc Roby: That is a beautiful solution to our humanly insoluble problem, but it is very sobering that it required the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ to accomplish it.

Dr. Spencer: And exactly how this all works is the topic of soteriology. We’ve already said a lot about how we are saved, but I want to begin really looking at the doctrine very carefully, piece by piece. And I want to start by asking an answering a very basic question; namely, “What is the ultimate cause of our salvation?”

Marc Roby: And how would you answer that question?

Dr. Spencer: I would say that the ultimate cause of our salvation is the love of God. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John tells us in John 3:16.

The theologian John Murray gives a very brief outline of God’s plan for salvation by making three points. First, “God set his love upon men.” Second, “In consequence he decreed their salvation.” And, third, “In order to achieve this end, he decreed to send his Son to secure their salvation.”[4]

Marc Roby: That’s a very broad-brush overview of salvation, which requires a great deal of fleshing out.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but it is sufficient to make a very important point. Murray notes that “Historically speaking, the distinguishing features of the various theologies appear in their respective constructions of the plan of salvation.” He then goes on to describe four broad categories of theology. The first theology is called “sacerdotalist”. Now sacerdotalism is the belief that priests are needed as mediators between God and man and includes the idea that we are saved through the efficacy of the sacraments. The most prominent example of a sacerdotalist theology is Roman Catholicism. Murry wrote that “The sacerdotalist conception [of salvation] is governed by the thesis that the church is the depository of salvation and the sacraments the media of conveyance.”[5]

Marc Roby: And by “media of conveyance” he means that the sacraments are means by which we obtain salvation. We should point out that this was not the original view of what is now the Roman Catholic church. The church’s view of salvation, as expounded by St. Augustin, agreed with the reformed view, but the view of the church evolved into sacerdotalism over time.

Dr. Spencer: And that movement away from the truth led to the Protestant Reformation. We may discuss both the reformation and the Roman Catholic view of salvation in more detail at a later time, but it will suffice for now to note that the Roman Catholic view of salvation is unbiblical and the Roman Catholic church is not a true church. I’m not saying it is impossible for someone to be saved in the Roman Catholic church, after all, the reformers themselves were all Roman Catholics first. But, if someone is truly saved in the Roman Catholic church, he or she will eventually want to get out of that church and find a church where the true gospel is preached and practiced.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree. But you said Murray described four types of theology in terms of their view of salvation. What are the other three?

Dr. Spencer: The other three all came out of the Reformation and while I think that one of them is the correct biblical view, and that the differences are important, I want to be clear up front that a person can be truly saved and be in any one of these three groups.

Marc Roby: Alright. Well, what are the three groups?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Murray writes, “Among evangelicals there are the Lutherans, the Arminians, and Reformed. The Lutherans and Arminians orient their construction of the plan of salvation to the contention that what God does looking to salvation, he does on behalf of all equally, and the diversity of the issues” and I should say that by “diversity of issues” Murray means the diversity of results. In other words, the obvious fact that not everyone is saved. So, now let me read that last sentence again and complete it this time; “The Lutherans and Arminians orient their construction of the plan of salvation to the contention that what God does looking to salvation, he does on behalf of all equally, and the diversity of the issues depends upon the differences of response on the part of men. The Reformed, on the other hand, maintain that God makes men to differ, and that the diversity of the issues finds its explanation ultimately in God’s sovereign election of some to salvation.”[6]

Marc Roby: And although I’m sure it is obvious to anyone who has been listening to these podcasts, we take the reformed position. Although the Arminian position is, without a doubt, the most common one in the church.

Dr. Spencer: There is no doubt that it is the most common view today. And it is the view that I think virtually everyone likes the best when they first hear about the differences because it appears to be fair, it treats everyone the same.

Marc Roby: And we all like fair play.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. But we need to be careful. If we think about it for a minute, it should be clear that we don’t want God to deal with us fairly. If he deals with us fairly, we are back to the syllogism I gave; we are all doomed to go to hell. God is just and holy, and while I certainly don’t want him to stop being just and holy, which is impossible anyway, I do not want him to treat me with justice. I want him to treat me with mercy.

Marc Roby: I see your point. Justice would demand that we all pay the penalty for our own sins, which we can never do.

Dr. Spencer: No, we can’t. We can spend all eternity in hell and the debt is still not paid; in fact, it will have increased because we will have continued to be rebellious toward God. But that would be fair. The critical thing that many don’t seem to think through is that we don’t want God to be fair and just when it comes to our salvation. We want him to be merciful.

Marc Roby: But the Lutheran and Arminian positions certainly agree that God’s saving us is a merciful act. They agree that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.

Dr. Spencer: They do agree on those important points, and that is why I said a person can hold to those positions and be saved. But, think about it for a minute carefully. If God truly makes salvation equally possible for every person, but not every person is saved, then we can conclude that there must be something the people who are saved did that gained their salvation.

Marc Roby: Well, that logic seems sound, but I know that Lutherans and Arminians will agree that they did nothing to earn their salvation.

Dr. Spencer: They will agree with that statement, but there is a problem. They will usually say something like this; “God freely offers salvation to every person and only those who steadfastly reject it will be lost.” Now that sounds like those who are saved haven’t done anything positive to gain their salvation, but notice that they did avoid doing something negative! They did not steadfastly reject the offer. So they did, in fact, do something to gain their salvation. What they did was to not reject it.

In the end it doesn’t matter whether we word it in a positive or negative way, the conclusion that Murray stated is true. He said that “the diversity of the issues depends upon the differences of response on the part of men.” In other words, our salvation depends on our response. It depends on us. We would have something to be proud of. But Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9 that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” And given that this podcast will appear on Thanksgiving day, it is particularly appropriate to give thanks to our glorious God for his gift of salvation.

Marc Roby: I agree, we should be and are eternally thankful. But we need to explain how it is we can be saved and not have it depend on our response. We don’t have time today to start a new topic, so we had better stop now. Therefore, let me first take this opportunity to join you in wishing all our listeners a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving, and then remind them that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to reply.

[1] V. Poythress, Logic – A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought, Crossway, 2013, pp 48-49

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

[3] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 518

[4] J. Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 124

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. In our last session we introduced what are called the offices of Christ. Namely, that he functions as a Prophet, Priest and King. And we then discussed his functioning as a prophet. Dr. Spencer, do you want to move on now to discuss Christ’s role as our Priest?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but I think we will have to begin that discussion with a digression into why we need a priest.

Marc Roby: Well, in examining the Old Testament idea of a priest last week we noted that a priest is one who intercedes with God on behalf of the people. He is a mediator in other words. In the Old Testament this mediation was primarily accomplished through the sacrificial system established by God through Moses and it was the job of the Levitical priesthood.

Dr. Spencer: That’s all correct, but I think that as we get ready to focus on Jesus Christ as the ultimate high priest, we need to at least outline in more detail why a priest is needed and what he specifically accomplishes for us. Modern people, even many who call themselves Christians, are deeply offended at the idea of God requiring a sacrifice.

Marc Roby: Well, I have to admit that I have a difficult time with all of the blood in the Old Testament, and I’m very glad that I live at a time when we are not called to sacrifice animals on a regular basis.

Dr. Spencer: I share your city-boy’s aversion to blood! But it is critically important for us, and for all Christians, to understand why a sacrifice is necessary. In his excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, the great theologian John Murray wrote that “sin evokes the holy displeasure or wrath of God. Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin.”[1]

Marc Roby: Wrath and vengeance are not popular topics today.

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think they’ve ever have been popular topics.

Marc Roby: And most people, including those who identify as Christians, think of vengeance as a rather unseemly thing, certainly not something worthy of God.

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right about that, and it is wrong for us to seek vengeance. But God declares in Deuteronomy 32:35 that “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”[2]  And the word vengeance shows up 26 times in the 1984 NIV Bible that we are using. For example, in the same passage I just quoted from, which is called the Song of Moses, God declared to his people through Moses, in Deuteronomy 32:39-41, “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. I lift my hand to heaven and declare: As surely as I live forever, when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.”

Marc Roby: That is a terrifying passage.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is, but it is also the truth. The reality is that God is absolutely holy and he cannot allow his holy name to be profaned without taking action.

Marc Roby: Now we don’t often use the word profane anymore, so perhaps it would be good to define it. To profane something is to treat something that should be shown great respect or honor with great disrespect. It is to defile, or desecrate or degrade something that is holy.

Dr. Spencer: And that is what sin does. We are made in the image of God and are to be his representatives, ruling creation in his stead. Whenever we disregard his laws and sin, we profane his name. In Habakkuk 1:13 the prophet speaks to God and says, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

We must realize that every single sin we commit, no matter how minor, is an affront to the eternal, almighty, Creator of the universe. Every time we sin, we are, in essence, saying to God, “You have no authority to tell me what to do or not to do.” Every sin is nothing short of rebellion against the Lord of the universe, the One who gave us life and the one to whom we will all have to give an account.

Marc Roby: And the One who will either bring us into heaven or send us to hell for all eternity.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, exactly. Sin is serious. Our culture tends to minimize sin, but God does not. It must be dealt with. We all inherit a sinful nature from our parents and then practice sin every day of our lives. As a result, we have a serious problem. God’s anger is justly aroused.

Marc Roby: Which is never a good thing. When God is angry, painful things will happen.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the greatest calamity that came upon the Jewish people prior to the time of Christ was when Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, captured Jerusalem and took many of the people into captivity in Babylon. This exile occurred in stages. One deportation was in 597 BC, and one of the people taken captive was a 27-year-old priest named Ezekiel.

Now had things been normal, he would have begun his priestly duties, serving in the temple in Jerusalem, when he turned 30. But, instead, God called him to be a prophet to the people in exile in Babylon. And the people didn’t like his message. They were anticipating a short exile and were expecting to be returned to Jerusalem because they didn’t think God would allow his temple, which was in Jerusalem, to be destroyed as we read in Jeremiah 7:4.

Marc Roby: And they were encouraged in that belief by false prophets. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah was still in Jerusalem at this time and he wrote to the exiles. We read in Jeremiah 29:4-9 that he said, in part, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, … Increase in number there; do not decrease. … Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them’”.

Dr. Spencer: And, at the same time, God spoke to the exiles through Ezekiel as well. We read in Ezekiel 13:9-10 that God declared, “My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. … Because they lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace”. Which should serve as a great warning to all modern ministers who preach and act as though God will simply wink at sin. As if he is no longer holy and no longer angry at sin.

Marc Roby: Yes, we have made the point a number of times that God does not change.

Dr. Spencer: God can’t change. He is perfect. If he changed, then he would either have not been perfect before, or would not be perfect after the change. So what God spoke to the people during the Babylonian exile is still important.

In Ezekiel 22:26 we read that God declared about the city of Jerusalem, “Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.”

Marc Roby: And we are back to the idea then of sin profaning God, or profaning God’s name. It dishonors him.

Dr. Spencer: And as the perfect judge of the universe, he must deal with it. Sin is our problem. Because we are sinners in rebellion against a perfectly holy and just God we deserve hell.

Marc Roby: But the amazing truth of the gospel is that God chose to save some people from hell and bring them to heaven instead.

Dr. Spencer: And there is a very common misconception about how that salvation occurs. Many people, including some professing Christians, have the idea that God the Father is full of wrath, but Jesus came along, gave himself as a sacrifice and then pleads with the Father to have mercy on people for Jesus’ sake. John Murray puts it this way in speaking about the atonement, he says, “It has been charged that this doctrine represents the Son as winning over the incensed Father to clemency and love, a supposition wholly inconsistent with the fact that the love of God is the very fount from which the atonement springs.”[3]

Marc Roby: And when Murray says that “the love of God is the very fount from which the atonement springs”, he is speaking about the love of the triune God; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not just the love of the Son.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Look at one of the most famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16. It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Now think about that verse for a minute. It is Jesus Christ who is speaking, and he is explaining God’s plan of salvation to Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. So when he says “God so loved the world”, he is talking about God the Father. That’s obvious when you realize that this God “gave his one and only Son”. It has to be the Father that Jesus is speaking about. So it is God the Father so loved the world that he sent his only Son to save his people.

Marc Roby: And, of course, God is one, so it is inconceivable that there would be any difference between the attitude or will of the Father and the Son. It makes no sense to think that the Father could be full of wrath toward people and the Son wouldn’t. Or that the Son could love people and the Father not.

Dr. Spencer: That’s absolutely true. We read in Revelation 6:16 about the wrath of the Lamb, which is speaking of Jesus Christ. So we know that he is wrathful toward sin just as the Father is. And so, the quote I read from John Murray earlier is completely biblical and, therefore, true; namely, “sin evokes the holy displeasure or wrath of God. Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin.” That is why we need a Savior. And James Boice says much the same thing in different words. He wrote that “the wrath of God … is actually the unyielding and terrifying opposition of the holy God to all that is opposed to holiness.”[4]

Marc Roby: As much as people may not like the idea of a wrathful God, it makes perfect sense that the perfectly holy Creator would be wrathful against those who oppose his glorious being and works. And this isn’t just an Old Testament idea. The apostle Paul clearly states in Romans 1:18 that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness”.

Dr. Spencer: And the word wrath is used 10 times in Paul’s letter to the Romans to speak of God’s just wrath toward sinners. Now, let me say that we will get into the topic of God’s plan of salvation in more detail later when we cover soteriology, which is the study of salvation. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to spend a few minutes on it here as we discuss Christology, because it has a huge impact on our understanding of Jesus Christ and his work. Jesus himself told us in Mark 10:45 that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In other words, he came to die.

Marc Roby: He is called Jesus because he saves his people from their sins as we are told in Matthew 1:21. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “Jehovah saves”.

Dr. Spencer: And in describing our salvation we may say that Christ has atoned for our sins, or we may say that he has provided satisfaction for our sins.[5], Murray points out that there are four categories in terms of which Scripture sets forth the atoning work of Christ: sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation and redemption. [6]

Marc Roby: I think we need to explain these four terms.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. But, as I noted a minute ago, I don’t want to get into them in great detail now, I just want to briefly present them so that we have a good understanding of what Jesus Christ came to do for his people.

The first category is that of sacrifice. And Murray explains that a sacrifice has reference to sin and guilt. He wrote that “Sin involves a certain liability, a liability arising from the holiness of God, on the one hand, and the gravity of sin as the contradiction of that holiness, on the other. The sacrifice was the divinely instituted provision whereby the sin might be covered and the liability to divine wrath and curse removed.”[7]

Marc Roby: Alright, what about propitiation? To propitiate means to appease someone’s anger and make them propitious, or favorably disposed, toward us.

Dr. Spencer: Well, Murray writes that “Propitiation presupposes the wrath of and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[8] Propitiation has to do with God’s attitude toward us, whereas sacrifice has to do with taking away or covering the cause of God’s displeasure in us.

Marc Roby: What about reconciliation? That also sounds close to propitiation. To be reconciled is to be restored to friendly relations.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but in propitiation the focus is on removing God’s wrath, whereas in reconciliation the focus is on restoring right relations. In Romans 5:1 we read, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Marc Roby: And that leads us finally to redemption.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, to redeem something is to buy it back. We can redeem something that we have given to a pawn shop as collateral for a loan for example. Or you can pay a ransom to redeem someone who has been kidnapped or taken to be a slave.

Marc Roby: And unbelievers are described in Romans Chapter 6 as being slaves to sin. We read in Verses 16-18, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very challenging passage. I don’t know any unbeliever who will admit to being a slave to sin. But the reality is that if you have not been born again, you cannot obey God’s law out of love for God. Therefore, everything you do is sin because the motive is wrong even if the action is, in itself, right. It is also challenging to Christians because it tells us clearly that are to be slaves to righteousness; in other words, we are to be obedient all the time.

Marc Roby: And none of us fulfill that requirement perfectly.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. But that is what we are called to if we have been saved. Murray summarizes these four categories in the following way, he writes, “Just as sacrifice is directed to the need created by our guilt, propitiation to the need that arises from the wrath of God, and reconciliation to the need arising from our alienation from God, so redemption is directed to the bondage to which our sin has consigned us.”[9]

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a great summary. We are nearly out of time, is there anything else you’d like to say for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. I’d like to wrap-up this discussion of the nature of the atonement by reading one last quote from Murray. He wrote that “Thought and expression stagger in the presence of the spectacle that confronts us in the vicarious sin-bearing of the Lord of glory. Here we must realize that we are dealing with the mystery of godliness, and eternity will not reach the bottom of it nor exhaust its praise.”[10]

Marc Roby: It is staggering to consider what God has done for us. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit chose to love us. Jesus agreed to become incarnate and live a perfect life in our stead and then die on the cross to pay for our sins, and the Holy Spirit applies that redemption to each Christian individually by bringing about new birth. Praise God!

And with that, we are out of time for today. So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d appreciate hearing from you.

 

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

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

[3] John Murray, op. cit., pg. 31

[4] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 315

[5] Hodge prefers the older word “satisfaction”, but newer theologies usually use the word “atonement”. See Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pp 469-470

[6] John Murray, op. cit., pg. 19

[7] Ibid, pg. 25

[8] Ibid, pg. 30

[9] Ibid, pg. 43

[10] Ibid, preface

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. In our last session we introduced three views about the fundamental nature of man: monism, which means that man consists of just his physical body – this is a materialistic view of man; then dichotomy, which means that man has both a physical body and a spirit; and finally, trichotomy, which means that man has a body, soul and spirit, where the spirit and soul are considered to be separate entities. So, Dr. Spencer, how do you want to begin our examination of this topic today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, last time I noted that the fact that man is a volitional creature argues persuasively against monism and I said we wouldn’t consider that further. But I’ve reconsidered that and would like to at least briefly present a case to show that monism is also antithetical to biblical Christianity.

Marc Roby: Well, it would certainly seem to not agree with Genesis 2:7, where we read that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” [1] This verse at least strongly implies that there is an immaterial part to man.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And I think a rock-solid case can be made by pointing out that the Bible clearly teaches us that our spirits live on after our physical bodies die. For example, when Christ was crucified there were two thieves crucified with him. One of those thieves was saved even while he was hanging on the cross dying and in Luke 23:42-43 we read that he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” and Jesus graciously replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Marc Roby: What amazing grace. We should probably point out that the thief had demonstrated his repentance and faith when he rebuked the other thief. We read in Luke 23:40-41 that when the other thief continued to mock Christ, this thief, now saved by grace, said to him, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” So, he was saved the same way we all are, by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And faith is always accompanied by repentance.

Dr. Spencer: That is the gospel in all of its glorious simplicity. But the point I wanted to make from this is that both Jesus and the thief were dying or, to be more precise, their physical bodies were dying, and yet Jesus said, “today you will be with me in paradise.” I think that is pretty clear evidence that our spirits live on after our physical bodies die.

Marc Roby: What Paul wrote to the church in Philippi also comes to mind. In Philippians 1:21-23 he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”.

Dr. Spencer: That is also very clear evidence. Paul did not think that his physical death would be the end of him. There are a number of other verses we could cite, but I think that is enough. The clear teaching of the Bible is that our soul lives on after our body is destroyed. But there is still more that we can learn from these verses.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: We can learn something about the natures of our physical body and spirit. Jesus told the thief “you will be with me in paradise”. He didn’t just say that the thief’s spirit would be with him. And Paul thought that when he died, he would be with Jesus, not just his spirit. And it is very interesting that he said, “if I am to go on living in the body”. It clearly shows that the body is not the most important thing. It is a physical vessel for our spirit. If you think about that for a minute it seems clear that our spirits are what make us who we are, they are the seat of our intellect, emotions and personality. Our physical bodies are houses for our spirits. Our bodies cannot exist independently, but our spirits can.

Marc Roby: That is interesting. But we want to avoid going too far with that idea. The ancient Greeks thought that the body was evil and the spirit was good. They envisioned the body as sort of a prison for the spirit and thought that death freed the spirit from that prison.

Dr. Spencer: And we do want to avoid that extreme. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who is well-known to all junior-high math students because of the Pythagorean theorem, was one of the philosophers that taught that view. And not only did they consider the soul good, they considered it divine. This view came from a religion called Orphism, which also taught that our souls go through reincarnation until they are sufficiently purified to return to the divine realm.[2]

Marc Roby: That sounds suspiciously similar to Buddhism and Hinduism.

Dr. Spencer: It does sound very similar to them. But the Christian view, or we should say the biblical view, is that both the body and soul were created good. They have both been corrupted by sin, which is most obviously evident in our physical bodies by the facts that we all get sick and we age and die. But it is also evident in our souls, or spirits. It shows up in our corrupt thinking, especially about God and eternal realities, and it shows up in all of the sinful human emotions and thoughts which plague mankind; selfishness, greed, lust, deceitfulness, arrogance, hatred and so on.

Marc Roby: Sadly, I have to agree that the corruption of sin is all too evident.

Dr. Spencer: And you can’t separate us from our bodies without loss. Our bodies are vessels for our spirits, but they are still important. In fact, we want to be careful and not imply that you can separate our bodies from our souls without changing who we are to some degree. Clearly our emotions are affected by, and have an effect upon, our bodies. We see, hear, feel, taste and smell and these all have an effect upon our emotions.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. It would seem impossible to take away our bodies without significantly impacting who we are.

Dr. Spencer: Our bodies are part of who we are as human beings. Which is why, when God redeems us, he redeems us body and soul. Paul wrote about this in his first letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 we read, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. And when Paul speaks about the body that is sown, he is using an agricultural metaphor and is comparing the burial of a body to sowing a crop.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And, as Paul says, that body is raised as a spiritual body. I don’t want to spend a bunch of time on this now, but let me just quickly say that by calling it a “spiritual body” Paul is not saying it is immaterial. Our final eternal state will be with our resurrected bodies and they will be physical bodies, although different from the ones we have now. The condition where our spirit lives without our body after death is a temporary condition.

Paul also wrote in Philippians 3:20-21 that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful destiny to look forward to. And I think we have reasonably established that monism is unbiblical and, therefore, unchristian. What do you want to say about dichotomy and trichotomy?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin by stating that a truly born-again Christian can believe in either dichotomy or trichotomy. This is not an essential doctrine. In fact, while I think that the proper biblical doctrine is dichotomy, I do have some sympathy for trichotomy. Although, in some sense I think we get into an issue of semantics as we will see and, in addition, we get into some things that we simply don’t fully understand and about which the Bible does not supply us with answers.

Marc Roby: And it is never wise to be dogmatic on any doctrine about which the Bible is not clear.

Dr. Spencer: No, that wouldn’t be wise at all. But with that caveat stated, I do think the biblical teaching is clearly that man is made up of two, and only two, parts. Our physical bodies and our immaterial spirit or soul. We see this dichotomy in many places in the Bible. For example, right after telling us that God will be our Father and we will be his sons and daughters, Paul concludes, in 2 Corinthians 7:1, by saying, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” He only lists two elements here, body and spirit, and that is a common theme throughout the Bible.

Marc Roby: In fact, the words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they are. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem gives a couple of very good examples I’d like to share.[3] First, he notes that “in John 12:27, Jesus says, ‘Now is my soul troubled,’[4] whereas in a very similar context in the next chapter John says that Jesus was ‘troubled in spirit’ (John 13:21).”

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a good example. What is the second one you want to share?

Dr. Spencer: It comes from the virgin Mary’s song of praise to God, often called the Magnificat. We read in Luke 1:46-47 that she began by saying, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. Grudem points out that this is a clear example of Hebrew synonymous parallelism, wherein the same idea is repeated using different words. We discussed synonymous parallelism in Session 42 when we were going through hermeneutics. But it is a clear example to show that the words soul and spirit are used as synonyms.

Marc Roby: Yes, that whole song is a beautiful poem of praise and these first two verses do clearly show that the words soul and spirit are used as synonyms. It also makes me think of a similar Old Testament example. In Job 7:11 we read, “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” This verse also uses synonymous parallelism and again establishes that soul and spirit are used interchangeably.

Dr. Spencer: Grudem also points out a number of other ways in which the terms are used interchangeably. For example, when someone dies, we will sometimes read about their soul departing, but in other cases we read about the spirit leaving.

In Genesis 35 we read about the death of Jacob’s wife Rachel while she was giving birth to Benjamin. In Verse 18 we read, “And as her soul was departing (for she was dying)” (ESV). But in John 19:30 we read about Jesus’ death, “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” So, Rachel’s death is described as her soul departing, but Jesus’ death is described by saying he gave up his spirit.

Marc Roby: I noticed that you quoted the English Standard Version for Genesis 35:18, rather the the 1984 NIV that we usually use.

Dr. Spencer: I did that because the NIV translated the phrase, “As she breathed her last”, rather than “as her soul was departing”. This is the only place in the Old Testament where the Hebrew word used there is translated that way. The translation accurately represents the meaning of course, but is not true to the original.

Marc Roby: And I prefer the sound of “as her soul was departing”.

Dr. Spencer: And so do I. The Hebrew word used there, nephesh, is used 757 times in the Old Testament.[5] The NIV translates it as life 129 times, as soul 105 times and then with an astonishing collection of words for the other 523 times, including 5 times using the word spirit and 16 times using the word heart.

I point all of this out because it illustrates that the words for soul and spirit have a broad range of meanings as we will discuss more later. But, in general, this word refers to the essence of life. It is, for example, the word used in Genesis 2:7, which we’ve looked at before. We read there, “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” When it says that “man became a living being”, the same Hebrew word, nephesh, is being translated as “being”. Both the King James and the American Standard versions, say “man became a living soul.”

Marc Roby: That does make it clear that this word is related to the essence of life. Which even in modern English is sometimes referred to as a man’s spirit, or soul, or heart.

Dr. Spencer: We do use those same words. But the main point Grudem makes here is that you never once see the Bible say that a person’s “soul and spirit departed”, or anything like that.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is pretty clear evidence that they are synonymous terms.

Dr. Spencer: And there’s a lot more. Grudem also points out man is sometimes referred to as “body and soul” and sometimes as “body and spirit”, when the clear intent of the passage is to represent the entirety of the man; in other words, both his material and immaterial parts.

So, for example, in Matthew 10:28 Jesus commands us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Clearly by referring to “soul and body”, Jesus means the whole person. And then, when the apostle Paul commanded the church in Corinth to excommunicate a man, we read in 1 Corinthians 5:5, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” I have again quoted from the ESV because it makes the contrast between the flesh, or we could say the body, and the spirit clear. That contrast is lost in the NIV, but is present in the original Greek.

Marc Roby: I think you’ve made a reasonably strong case for dichotomy being taught in the Bible. Is there more to say?

Dr. Spencer: There are a couple of more topics to consider before we move on to examine the biblical case made by those who believe in trichotomy. But before we move on to look at them, I want to remind our listeners what we mean by spirit or soul.

Last time I quoted the theologian Charles Hodge and I’d like to repeat a portion of the quote I read then. As I read this, I want our listeners to think of spirit or soul every time Hodge uses just the word spirit. In his Systematic Theology he wrote, “The essential attributes of a spirit are reason, conscience, and will. A spirit is a rational, moral, and therefore also, a free agent. In making man after his own image, therefore, God endowed him with those attributes which belong to his own nature as a spirit.”[6]

Marc Roby: He says that the spirit, or soul, is the seat of three things then: our ability to reason, our moral nature, and our free will.

Dr. Spencer: And these agree with an argument I made last time. Namely, that if you assume a materialist’s view of man, then we are just atoms in motion obeying the laws of physics, and you cannot explain volition, or free will. And you can take that argument further. Since you can’t explain volition, you really can’t explain reason in any meaningful sense of the term.

A purely materialistic view of man could certainly allow for some kind of very sophisticated reflex responses and even reflex responses that have been adapted over time, which could present fairly complex patterns of behavior. But you would never cross the threshold into having what most of us mean when we talk about reason. Adaptive machines can do many things, but they can’t really think in any meaningful sense of that term.

Marc Roby: I can imagine that it would be very difficult to precisely define the dividing line between the behavior that a very sophisticated adaptive system could exhibit and the behavior necessary to infer real intelligent reasoning.

Dr. Spencer: It would be very hard to do indeed. People have tried to define what is required to establish intelligent behavior, like the famous Turing test,[7] but I really don’t want to get into that now, so I will leave it deliberately vague.

Marc Roby: OK. You’ve mentioned free will and reasoning. By referring to our conscience Hodge also noted our moral nature. What about that?

Dr. Spencer: In order to be moral creatures, there must be some ultimate standard for morality by which we are to be judged. Otherwise, all we are really talking about is our own personal ideas of right and wrong, and no one person’s ideas are any more worthy than any other person’s ideas.

The only possible source for an absolute moral standard is God. So, if you have a purely materialistic view of man, which involves rejecting God, you also have lost any possibility for an objective moral standard. In that case, Hodge’s reference to our conscience would be meaningless. It could, at best, refer to our personal ideas of what is right or wrong.

Marc Roby: OK, so we’ve established that three essential attributes of a spirit or soul are an ability to reason, a conscience and free will.

I think this is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. 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] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 60

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 473-474

[4] Grudem quotes from the ESV here. The NIV uses the word heart instead of soul, but the original Greek has the word soul (ψυχή).

[5] The numbers given here come from: Edward Goodrick & John Kohlenberger, The NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Zondervan, 1990, pg. 1546

[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 97

[7] For a brief introduction, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Last time we started going through the statement in Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says in part, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”.

Dr. Spencer, last time we discussed the fact that man was created male and female and with a reasonable and immortal soul. The next thing noted in this statement is that we were endued with knowledge. What do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: I’m going to treat the next three things listed, which are knowledge, righteousness and holiness, all at the same time. In order to do this, I want to examine three verses from the Bible, which are, by the way, the verses cited by the Confession itself at this point.

Marc Roby: If I may begin, the first verse the Westminster divines cite is Genesis 1:26, where we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” [1]

Dr. Spencer: That is also the verse we began with in our previous session and which led to the discussion of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

And the second verse they cite is from the New Testament, Colossians 3:10. But, in order to have a complete sentence, let me read Colossians 3:9-10. Paul wrote, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And the final verse they cited was Ephesians 4:24. I’ll read Verses 22-24 in order to get a complete sentence. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And let me begin our examination of these New Testament passages by pointing out that both of them speak about an old self and a new self. The old self, of course, refers to an unregenerate person, in other words, a person who has not been born again. In other words, an unbeliever, someone who is still an enemy of God as Paul says in Colossians 1:21, where we read, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

And then, both passages also speak about a new self, which refers to a person who has been born again. The passages then tell us some things about the change that takes place when a person becomes a believer.

Marc Roby: There is also an interesting difference in the two passages that is worth pointing out before we go on. In Colossians 3:9-10 the past tense is used. We are said to have “taken off” our old self with its practices and to “have put on the new self”. Whereas, in Ephesians 4:22-24 we are commanded to “put off your old self” and “to put on the new self”, which describes something we are to do, not something that is a completed past event.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an interesting and important difference. There is a very real change that takes place when a person is born again and confesses Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the apostle Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And so, when the past tense is used, it is a clear indication of this change. It is evident in the life of a believer immediately.

Marc Roby: And yet, we are certainly not immediately made perfect.

Dr. Spencer: No, we’re not. And that is why the Bible also uses the present tense to talk about the continuing change that must take place in the life of a believer. Hence, we can be said in Colossians 3 to have taken off our old self, and then in Ephesians 4 be told to put off our old self. Both are true. And we will discuss this in more detail later, but for now I want to focus on the changes that are being made because they all tell us something about the image and likeness of God.

That image was radically defaced in the fall, but in Christ it is being restored. And so, as we already read, Colossians 3:10 says that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And so, clearly, knowledge is a part of the image with which man was originally made.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we must note that for our knowledge to be in any way the image of God’s knowledge, it must be true and correct knowledge. The fall caused man to believe in lies. Paul tells us about unbelievers in Romans 1:21-23 and says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

Marc Roby: That is the exact opposite of the progression taught in our schools today. Pagan religions that worship images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles didn’t come first and Christianity didn’t evolve from those religions. True worship came first and those pagan religions came when man rebelled against God. They are a perversion of true worship, not the first step in an evolution of religion.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. Mans thinking became futile and our foolish hearts were darkened. We didn’t start out that way in the Garden. We became fools as a result of sin.

Marc Roby: And we read in Psalm 14:1 that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the denial of God is the essence of foolishness and rebellion. And it is the source of our knowledge being corrupted by lies. This does not, of course, mean that an unbeliever is incapable to having any correct knowledge. Unbelievers can know many things that are factually correct and can use that knowledge to make useful objects and do useful work. But, at the core of the worldview of an unbeliever there is a lie. And that lie does corrupt many specific areas of knowledge as well, certainly including anything having to do with eternal realities, the nature of God or the nature of man.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have established, I think, that to made in God’s image includes the fact that man was made with true knowledge. Although that knowledge certainly was not exhaustive knowledge about our world.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. We aren’t told exactly how much Adam and Eve knew before the fall and it isn’t really important for us to know that. But what they knew, was true and correct. And, most importantly, their knowledge about God, however extensive it was, was true and correct.

Let me quote the theologian Charles Hodge about this knowledge. He wrote that “Adam knew God; whom to know is life eternal. Knowledge, of course, differs as to its objects. The cognition of mere speculative truths, as those of science and history, is a mere act of the understanding; the cognition of the beautiful involves the exercise of our aesthetic nature; of moral truths the exercise of our moral nature; and the knowledge of God the exercise of our spiritual and religious nature.”[2]

Marc Roby: And we could add that Adam not only knew moral truths, but he lived in accordance with them.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite right. In fact, Hodge also wrote that “The knowledge here intended is not mere cognition. It is full, accurate, living, or practical knowledge; such knowledge as is eternal life, so that this word [knowledge] here [in Colossians 3:10] includes what in Eph. iv. 24 is expressed by righteousness and holiness.”[3]

Marc Roby: And that quote provides a perfect segue to our discussion of the next verse cited by the Westminster Confession, which is Ephesians 4:24. This verse says that we are “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And we can again conclude that since the new man is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”, that must also have been the case for Adam and Eve prior to the fall. In redeeming his people from their bondage to sin, God is restoring the image that sin defaced, and that image included our being like God in righteousness and holiness.

Marc Roby: I think most people have a fair idea of what it means to be righteous, it is to do that which is right. And to be holy means, in this context, to be morally pure or blameless.

Dr. Spencer: And it is important to add that to be righteous is to do what is right in the sight of God, not what man thinks is right. Although the two terms righteousness and holiness can certainly be distinguished, Hodge points out that “These words when used in combination are intended to be exhaustive; i.e., to include all moral excellence.”[4]

Therefore, we can conclude by saying that when the Westminster Confession says that God “endued [man] with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image”, it means that man was created with a true and proper understanding of who God is and who man is and that he was morally upright and faultless. He obeyed God’s precepts perfectly.

Marc Roby: And the result of his perfect obedience was perfect happiness and perfect fellowship with God.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely.

Marc Roby: Your statement that man was created with a proper understanding of who God is and who man is also reminds me of the first line to Calvin’s great work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which says that “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: And the similarity to his statement was quite deliberate. Properly understanding the Creator/creature distinction is crucial for us to be good image bearers. An ambassador always has to remember his place. He represents his government and country. He has no authority to do or say what he wants to do or say.

Marc Roby: That’s a good analogy to keep in mind. As Christians, we are to always represent Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. But let’s get back to the statement from Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It says that “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”. We have now discussed all of this except the last phrase, which says that man was created having the law of God written in his heart and with the power to fulfil it.

Having the law written in the heart is again an aspect of being endued with knowledge. That knowledge, as we have seen, includes moral knowledge.

Marc Roby: So the thing that is added by this last phrase is that man was created with the power to keep the moral law.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Theologians, as is often the case, have a Latin phrase that they use for this. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were posse non peccare, which means that it was possible for them to not sin. Of course, they were also posse peccare, which means that they were able to sin. God did not prevent their sinning.

In any event, the Confession is right in telling us that man was created with the power to keep the moral law. If that were not so, Genesis 1:31 would not be true. We read there that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Marc Roby: How sad it is that it didn’t remain very good.

Dr. Spencer: That is very sad indeed. All of the troubles we experience are the result of human sin. God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory, not the immediate pleasure of man. We will get to the effects of sin as the last topic in our study of anthropology, but for now I want to continue looking at our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Very well, we’ve finished looking at the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, so what is next?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to read a fairly lengthy passage from Charles Hodge about what is called the essential image of God in man. But before I read it, I need to tell our listeners about Aristotle’s distinction between the essential nature of something and the accidental nature.

The essential nature, or essence, of a thing is its fundamental nature.[6] If you take away the essence, you take away the thing itself. The accidental nature of a thing includes all of those aspects that are not essential to its being.[7] So, for example, the essential nature of a chair would include the fact that you can sit on it. Its accidents might include the fact that it is made out of wood, or metal, or that it has four legs as opposed to a single large pedestal.

Marc Roby: Alright, that makes sense. So what is the quote from Hodge?

Dr. Spencer: Hodge wrote, “While, therefore, the Scriptures make the original moral perfection of man the most prominent element of that likeness to God in which he was created, it is no less true that they recognize man as a child of God in virtue of his rational nature. He is the image of God, and bears and reflects the divine likeness among the inhabitants of the earth, because he is a spirit, an intelligent, voluntary agent; and as such he is rightfully invested with universal dominion. This is what the Reformed theologians were accustomed to call the essential image of God, as distinguished from the accidental. The one consisting in the very nature of the soul, the other in its accidental endowments, that is, such as might be lost without the loss of humanity itself.”

Marc Roby: If I might try to summarize and explain, Hodge is saying that both man’s original moral perfection and his being a rational, volitional being are essential to his being made in the image of God.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s accurate. I’m not absolutely certain what would be considered accidental in this context, but I suppose the physical form of man; namely that we have a head, two arms, two legs and a torso might be the sort of thing that is meant. In any event, what is important, and the reason I read the quote, is that it tells us that reformed theologians have emphasized man’s original moral perfection and the fact that he is a rational, volitional being as being essential to our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Is there anything you want to add before we conclude for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, one thing. The fact that we are moral, rational creatures is also essential to our performing the one function that clearly distinguishes us from the animals. The great Puritan theologian John Owen wrote that “The approaching unto God in his service is the chief exaltation of our nature above the beasts that perish.”[8] He also wrote, in the Greater Catechism, “Was man able to yield the service and worship that God required of him? Yea, to the uttermost, being created upright in the image of God, in purity, innocence, righteousness, and holiness.”[9]

Marc Roby: That’s wonderful. Our being made in the image of God is what distinguishes us from all other creatures and it is what enables us to worship and serve God, which is our greatest joy.

And now I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email 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] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 101

[3] Ibid, pg. 100

[4] Ibid, pg. 101

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pg. 4

[6] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 751

[7] Ibid, pg. 739 (see page 150 and especially footnote 59 for further explanation of essence and accidents)

[8] Quoted in: Beeke, Joel R. & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 670

[9] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s will. Dr. Spencer, we ended last time by looking at 1 Peter 1:18-20, and in verse 20 it says that Christ “was chosen before the creation of the world” [1]. You also pointed out that he was chosen for the purpose of becoming incarnate and giving his life as an atonement to save his people from their sins. And that all of this is part of God’s decretive will.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is part, God decrees everything that happens, even our sin. Listen to what the apostle Peter said to the crowd on the day of Pentecost. We read this in Acts 2:22-24, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Marc Roby: And in Acts 4:28 we read that the believers were praying about the authorities crucifying Jesus Christ and they said, “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

Dr. Spencer: God’s will is wonderful. He can work directly in this universe, as he did in creation and as he does in regeneration, but he normally uses secondary agents to accomplish his purposes. In this case, he used this horrible sin of crucifying the completely innocent God-man Jesus Christ to bring about the redemption of his people. It completely boggles the mind. God used what was the worst sin ever committed to bring about the greatest good ever achieved.

Marc Roby: And yet Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was still morally culpable for his sin. And so were the Jewish leaders who conspired against him and condemned him, and so was Pontius Pilate, the prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, who acceded to their demands; they were all morally culpable for their sins even though they were accomplishing God’s set purpose in doing so.

Dr. Spencer: They most certainly were morally responsible for their sins. No one forced them to sin, even though God had ordained from before the creation of the world that they would do so. The theological term used to describe the fact that God’s free will and our free will can work together to accomplish exactly what God has foreordained, or decreed, is called concurrence. It is a very important concept.

Marc Roby: And, of course, the crucifixion of Christ is not the only dramatic example of concurrence. The story of Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt gives us another great example.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. But in order to give that example, we need to remind our listeners of some of the facts relating to Joseph’s life.

Marc Roby: Alright, let me begin. Joseph was one of the twelve Patriarchs of the Jewish people. He was the favorite son of his father Jacob, who was the son of Isaac, the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah. Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was his father’s favorite, so they sold him to some Midianite slave traders who were heading down to Egypt and then told their father Jacob that he had been killed by a wild animal. Joseph was later sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.

Dr. Spencer: And we read about all of that in Genesis Chapter 37. But God was gracious to Joseph in Egypt and through a long process, which included his being unjustly imprisoned for years, he miraculously became second in command in Egypt as we read in Chapters 39-41 of Genesis. We also read that there was a severe famine in the land and Joseph was in charge of Pharaoh’s storehouses of grain.

Marc Roby: And in Chapter 42 of Genesis we are told that there was also famine in the land of Canaan, where Joseph’s brothers and father lived. And because they heard that there was grain in Egypt, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain for their families. In doing so, they came before their brother Joseph.

Dr. Spencer: And there is a lot that we are leaving out in order to get to our main point. This is a marvelous story of God’s grace and sovereignty and I encourage our listeners to read it if they don’t know the story. But to move on, Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognize him because he now spoke, dressed and acted like an Egyptian, but he recognized them. I will again leave out a lot of wonderful and edifying material from Chapters 43 through 49 and just say that Joseph eventually revealed himself to his brothers and then his entire family, including his father Jacob, moved down to Egypt.

Marc Roby: And Jacob died in Egypt, which then left Joseph’s brothers worried. In Genesis 50:15 we read that “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’”

Dr. Spencer: And we finally come to the verses we want to discuss today. In Genesis 50:19-21 we read, “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”

Marc Roby: What a gracious response that was.

Dr. Spencer: It was incredibly gracious, but Joseph saw God’s purpose in all that had happened. I’m sure that as a human being he must have struggled with all of the trials he went through because of his brother’s hatred, and in the material we skipped over we do see him exacting a bit of revenge. But the main point here, just as we saw in Acts regarding the crucifixion of Jesus, is the concurrence between the free, sinful actions of human beings and God’s ultimate purpose and decrees.

Marc Roby: Now I suspect that that will sound very strange to many of our listeners. The idea that God would, in any way, concur with sinful acts.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that does sound strange to anyone who has not heard of this doctrine before. The word concur is often used to indicate agreement or approval, but it can also simply mean to act together toward some common goal, in which case it does not imply approval of the actions of the other person. And that is the sense in which we are using the word here.

God’s actions and the sinful actions of human beings can work together to bring about a result that God has decreed will happen, but there is no implication that God approves of the sinful actions.

Marc Roby: Louis Berkhof gives a good definition of concurrence in his systematic theology text. He writes that “Concurrence may be defined as the cooperation of the divine power with all subordinate powers, according to the pre-established laws of their operation, causing them to act and to act precisely as they do.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: That is a great definition. We will have more to say about concurrence, which is part of the doctrine of God’s providence, when we finish with God’s attributes. But for now, let me just point out a couple of things. First, note that Berkhof talks about divine power and subordinate powers. God is in complete control of his creation. That does not mean that we are all puppets, but it does mean that we are completely subordinate. No one can thwart God’s plans. He brings about exactly what he has decreed will happen. When we sin, he uses our sin, together with other factors, to bring about his purposes.

Marc Roby: That’s an amazing thing to think about.

Dr. Spencer: It really is. But I also like the fact that Berkhof mentions the “pre-established laws” that are in operation. There are, for example, the laws of nature, which God himself established and upholds, but there are also laws, if you will, of human behavior. As we noted in Session 84 and will talk about more when we get to biblical anthropology, we do have free wills, but our wills are not absolutely free. We cannot violate our own nature. Which is perfectly logical and reasonable. It strikes me as exceedingly strange, to say the least, to think that I have the freedom to choose to do something that goes completely against all of my own inclinations and desires.

Marc Roby: That is indeed illogical. But, now that we have established that in order to accomplish his decretive will God works through secondary agents, including even the sinful actions of human beings, what else do you want to say about the will of God?

Dr. Spencer: Well, since we have been talking about human sin and its relation to God’s will, I want to stick with that general idea and talk about what is usually called God’s permissive will. I can’t find a good definition of this term in any of my theology texts because theologians seem to not use the term. But Christians use it reasonably often, so I think we should discuss it. I think that what people usually mean by God’s permissive will is that it encompasses all those things that God allows to happen even though they are not what he desires or commands to have happen.

Marc Roby: And these actions may include sin as well as things that are not, in themselves sin.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s right. And although I can’t find a theologian speaking about God’s permissive will, Berkhof does talk about the fact that God’s eternal decree, which is basically synonymous with what we have been calling God’s decretive will, is permissive with respect to human sin.

Marc Roby: Now, that’s an interesting statement, can you explain what he means by that?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I can. He wrote that when God decrees human sin, “It is a decree which renders the future sinful act absolutely certain, but in which God determines (a) not to hinder the sinful self-determination of the finite will; and (b) to regulate and control the result of this sinful self-determination.”[3]

Marc Roby: This sounds like concurrence again, mixed in with God’s sovereign control of all things, including human sin. Berkhof’s point seems to be that God permits sin, but it is never outside of his control and is used by him to accomplish his own purposes.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a fair summary.

Marc Roby: When people speak of God’s permissive will, it is usually in some way contrasted with his perfect will.

Dr. Spencer: That contrast is what you typically hear.[4] And what is usually meant by God’s perfect will for us is almost synonymous with his revealed, or preceptive will. It is what God has commanded us to do, although it often goes beyond that. For example, someone might talk about it not being God’s perfect will for them to marry a particular individual, whereas Scripture, of course, does not command us to marry or not marry a specific individual. It only gives us the command that as Christians, we must marry another Christian.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly heard that kind of talk, and it does make a valid point. We can make decisions that are not necessarily sinful, they aren’t the wisest choice. God will not usually intervene in any direct way to stop his people from making bad decisions, or even from sinning, so we need to be careful to not conclude that just because he allows us to do something, that it is the best thing to do, or even to conclude that it isn’t sin.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that is the point usually being made when people talk about God’s permissive will versus his perfect will. And it is an important point. It should scare us to know that God will allow us to make bad decisions. And it should scare us even more when we read, for example, that God allowed King David to commit adultery and murder. We would prefer to read that David was prevented from doing so. But the reality is that, for his own perfect purposes, God allows his people to sin, sometimes grievously. And we cannot take any solace in the fact that he is sovereign even over our sins and will somehow use them to accomplish his good purposes. It would always, without exception, be better for us to not sin.

Marc Roby: I completely agree. We need to seek to be led by the Word of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in order to avoid sin and even decisions that are not sinful, but that are also not the wisest choice.

Dr. Spencer: And we have a great promise from God about temptation to sin. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read 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.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a great promise. But it does not say that God will not allow us to be tempted. It only says that he will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.

Dr. Spencer: And the painful truth is that we sometimes give in to temptation in spite of God keeping it limited to what we can bear. We need to be very careful to watch our life and doctrine closely as the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16. God will provide a way out of every temptation, but we must look for it and avail ourselves of it. If we don’t, we will suffer harm.

Marc Roby: Yes, and very often others will be harmed as well.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite true. This is why Jesus taught in the Lord’s prayer to pray that God would deliver us from temptation. He also told us to pray “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10), which is obviously speaking about God’s preceptive will; in other words, we are praying that people, including ourselves, would obey God’s commands. It would make no sense for this to refer to God’s decretive will since whatever God decrees will, in fact, happen. Therefore, if this referred to God’s decretive will we would be praying that God would cause what is going to happen to happen.

Marc Roby: That certainly wouldn’t make any sense. But I doubt that many people are consciously aware that they are praying for their own obedience when they pray the Lord’s prayer. What else do you want to say about God’s will?

Dr. Spencer: I think it is important to distinguish between what theologians call God’s necessary and free wills.

Marc Roby: We have already pointed out that there are things that God cannot do, so his necessary will must refer to those things which he must do because he is God. Things like continuing to exist and always telling the truth.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what is meant, so in a sense we’ve covered God’s necessary will already. But the important point I want to make is that God also does many things freely, and it is particularly important for us to know that creation was God’s free decision. He did not need to create this universe for any reason. Nor did he need to redeem anyone after the fall.

Marc Roby: You do sometimes here Christians talk about God creating us for fellowship, which sounds a bit like he would be lonely without us.

Dr. Spencer: That is precisely the view I want to oppose. It is unbiblical. God is love as we are told in 1 John 4:16, and that is an essential attribute of God. It is part of his fundamental nature. It was true before he ever created this universe. There was absolutely perfect love and fellowship between the persons of the Trinity prior to the creation of this universe. God did not need to create. Wayne Grudem states it well in his systematic theology. He wrote that “It would be wrong for us ever to try to find a necessary cause for creation or redemption in the being of God himself, for that would rob God of his total independence. It would be to say that without us God could not truly be God. God’s decisions to create and to redeem were totally free decisions.”[5]

Marc Roby: That is a very important, and humbling, point. Is there anything else you wanted to say about God’s will?

Dr. Spencer: I want to go back to the Lord’s prayer and note again that in that prayer Christ taught us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth, which certainly includes in our own lives. If we have surrendered our lives to Christ, we must work hard to submit our will to his will. When Jesus was crying out to the Father from the Mount of Olives prior to his crucifixion, we read in Luke 22:42 that he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” That is the kind of complete submission to God that all of us should strive to achieve in our own lives.

I’ve heard that people used to add the letters D.V. to statements of their intentions for the future. For example, I might write that I will visit you in Oregon this summer, D.V. The letters D.V. stand for the Latin phrase deo volente, and mean God willing.

Marc Roby: Which comes, of course, from James 4:13-15, where we read, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

Dr. Spencer: I assume that is where it comes from, yes. And although I’m sure it can easily become a meaningless cliché used to try and sound godly, it is a good sentiment to have in mind at all times. As Christians, our job is to seek to know and do the will of God. As Jesus himself told us in John 13:17, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Marc Roby: I think that is a good place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our best to respond to them.

 

[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] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 171

[3] Ibid, pg. 105

[4] It shows up, for example, in a popular old daily devotional called My Utmost for his Highest by Oswald Chambers, see the entry for December 16.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 213

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s will. Dr. Spencer, in our previous discussion, you made the point that God truly desires that all people be saved, and yet he does not in fact save everyone because to do so would not serve his ultimate purpose of making his own glory manifest as well as the universe we live in does. Doesn’t this leave you open to the charge of somehow limiting God’s options?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I’m not limiting God’s options, but his options are, in fact, limited. God is not free to do absolutely anything. We mentioned this briefly before when we were discussing God’s Sovereignty and man’s free will in Session 65. For example, we are told in Hebrews 6:18 that “it is impossible for God to lie”. [1] But there are many other things God cannot do.

Marc Roby: I think John Frame has a useful discussion on this topic in his book The Doctrine of God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he does. He lists six kinds of actions that God cannot perform.[2] First, he cannot perform logically contradictory actions.

Marc Roby: Like making a square circle.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And Frame makes an important point in this regard. When we say that there are things God cannot do, this is not to say that there is a weakness in God. God cannot do things that are logically contradictory because, as Frame says, “The laws of logic are an aspect of his own character.”[3] We could reasonably call logic one of God’s attributes, although that is not normally done. It is not a weakness that God is unable to go against his own character.

Marc Roby: What else does Frame say that God cannot do?

Dr. Spencer: He cannot do anything immoral.

Marc Roby: And, certainly, no one could rationally consider that a weakness. It is, in fact, a great strength. As you noted a moment ago, he can’t lie. And James 1:13 tells us that “God cannot be tempted by evil”. What else does Frame say God cannot do?

Dr. Spencer: He cannot do things that are appropriate only for creatures, like celebrating a birthday. He can do these things in the incarnate person of Jesus Christ, but not in his deity. But this inability is again an indication of his strength, not a weakness. He also cannot deny his own nature as God by, for example, ceasing to be God. God can’t commit suicide.

Marc Roby: Well, that seems pretty obvious, and certainly can’t be thought of as a weakness. What else?

Dr. Spencer: God can’t change his eternal plan. In a sense, to do so would be to deny his nature as the perfect, unchangeable God.

Marc Roby: Okay, I believe that is five things, but you said Frame listed six, so what is the last one?

Dr. Spencer: The last one is more interesting, although it sounds silly at first blush. It is the age-old question of whether or not God can make a stone so large that he can’t lift it.

Marc Roby: Okay, I’ll be honest and say that that does sound downright silly at first blush.

Dr. Spencer: Well, I’ll admit that I was surprised when I read in Frame’s book that philosophers have written about this question fairly recently. The problem of course, is supposed to be that if God can make such a stone, then he can’t lift it and is therefore not omnipotent. And, on the other hand, if he can’t make such a stone, then he again is not omnipotent. The question is an attempt to show that God’s being omnipotent is somehow a logical contradiction.

But I don’t think it presents a serious challenge to the idea of God’s omnipotence. We have already said that God’s omnipotence does not mean he can do anything, and we have already listed five kinds of things he can’t do. Frame suggests that this one fits into the category of God not being able to do things that are appropriate only for finite creatures. We, for example, are certainly capable of making things too heavy for us to lift without machines, just think of a bus or truck, or even an automobile.

Marc Roby: That is obviously true, but it is also true that we can’t create anything out of nothing, meaning no pre-existing matter, which is the kind of creating God has done.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, and Frame doesn’t address that point. He uses the human example simply to show that the question does not fit into the category of logically contradictory actions. I’m not going to spend any time to get into the fine points of logic that I assume must be involved in the philosophical discussions about this question. I would simply say that since God can create this universe out of nothing, and is also capable of destroying it in an instant, it is pretty clear to me that he can’t create a stone too heavy for him to lift. But that is not a sign of weakness, nor does it challenge his omnipotence. It is, rather, a sign of his unlimited power.

Marc Roby: I completely agree. It’s amazing the lengths people will go to sometimes to try and disprove the existence of God. They really don’t like the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, all holy and just God judging them at the end of their life.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But, as we’re told in Romans Chapter 1, they are suppressing the truth because in their heart of hearts they know that God exists.

Marc Roby: We got onto this topic of things that God cannot do because you were answering my challenge that you might have left yourself open to the charge of limiting God’s options when you argued that God didn’t create a universe without sin, even though such a universe would please him, because such a universe would not accomplish his main goal of making his own glory manifest as well as this one does.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Even God is limited by his own perfect, unchangeable, eternal, holy nature. He can’t die, he can’t lie and he can’t do anything that contradicts his own nature. We’ve argued before that he is perfect and all he does is perfect. We are told in Deuteronomy 32:4 that “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”

Marc Roby: We also read in 2 Samuel 22:31 that “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.”

Dr. Spencer: And, perhaps most famously, in Matthew 5:48 Jesus himself told us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” There are other Scriptures we could cite as well, but it is clear that God is perfect and all he does is perfect. Therefore, when he chose to create this universe for the manifestation of his own glory, that was the best possible purpose for creation.

Marc Roby: We have made that argument before, in Session 75. And since we are talking about God’s will, there is one more verse I would like to cite about God’s perfection because it tells us specifically that his will is perfect. In Romans 12:2 we are commanded, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great verse for our present purposes. And the point I’m trying to make is that in accomplishing that purpose, even God is limited. Not by weakness, but by his perfections. Because all that he does is perfect, he was constrained to create the perfect universe to accomplish his perfect purpose, even if there were some things about that universe that he himself didn’t like.

Marc Roby: Now that’s a difficult concept to wrap your brain around.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But I think that it is a necessary conclusion based on what we are told in the Bible. So, let’s get back to the verse that started this whole discussion and state our conclusions.

Marc Roby: You mean 2 Peter 3:9 of course, where we read that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s the verse. And the problem we have been addressing is, if God wants everyone to come to repentance, then why don’t all people repent, trust in Christ, and be saved? And the answer is that this verse is speaking about God’s will of disposition as we saw last time. In other words, it is telling us something real and true about the nature of God, he does not take pleasure in the fact that people sin, refuse to repent and, as a result, go to hell. And yet, he is the one who sends people to hell. He does this because it is necessary to accomplish his overall purpose for creation.

Marc Roby: And, again, we struggle to grasp and accept this truth because it implies the necessity of evil and of eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. But, as we have noted before, what I like doesn’t have any bearing on what is true. I don’t like the fact I’m growing old. I don’t like the fact that I get sick. There are all kinds of things I don’t like that are, nonetheless, true. The astounding thing is that we can conclude from 2 Peter 3:9 combined with the obvious fact that not everyone repents, that there are some things that God doesn’t like, but which are, nonetheless true.

Marc Roby: But, as you have been careful to point out, this is not because there is any weakness in God.

Dr. Spencer: No, it is definitely not because of weakness. There doesn’t need to be any weakness or imperfection in order to be constrained. God is constrained by his own nature, which includes his perfect mercy and love, but also his perfect justice and wrath. As human beings we understand the idea of being constrained by things outside of our control. And even in our case it is not always a sign of weakness or imperfection. I’ve spent most of my life as an engineer and engineers deal with constraints all the time. Some of those constraints are caused by our limitations, but others are not.

Marc Roby: It seems like the really important question would be then, which constraints are fundamental and therefore, insurmountable.

Dr. Spencer: That is an important question, and for us it isn’t always easy tell which is which. I’ve seen a number of technological advances in my lifetime that were at one time considered fundamentally impossible. So I’m not about to go out on a limb and say which specific constraints are fundamental and which are due to our own limitations, but it would appear, for example, that travelling faster than the speed of light is impossible. And, to be far more mundane, it is almost certainly impossible to build a comfortable, quiet car that uses water for fuel, goes 1,000 miles on a tank of water, and costs only a $1,000 to build.

Marc Roby: And the point we’ve been making is simply that even God is constrained in some ways, but not because of any weakness or imperfection in him. In fact, his constraints are the result of his perfections.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Theologians talk about God’s decretive will, which is those things which God has decreed will happen. And his decretive will is not the same as his will of disposition, which is those things that God would like, at least in some sense, to have happen. You could truthfully say that God decrees some things that he doesn’t like.

Marc Roby: John Frame says something very similar. He notes that “there are some good things that, by virtue of the nature of God’s plan, will never be realized.”[4] And that “God’s broad intentions for history may exclude the blessing of a world existing without any history of evil.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: Frame also gives an important warning. He notes that “God’s will is, of course, one; but since it is complex, some have distinguished different aspects of it – different ‘wills.’ We should be careful with this language, but it does make it easier for us to consider the complications of our topic.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s a good warning. We always have to keep in mind God’s simplicity – that he is not made up of parts. We can talk about his will of disposition or his will of decree as a way to help us to understand, but we must not think there are different parts of God that are somehow in conflict with each other.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely true. God has one will and he has one overarching purpose for creation, which is the manifestation of his own glory. But there are also a number of other purposes that we could say are subordinate to his overarching purpose. Foremost among those subordinate purposes is his redeeming a people for himself.

Marc Roby: And these people comprise the church, the body and bride of Christ. They are those who have been chosen from before the creation of the world as we read in Ephesians 1:4, which says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And all of those whom God has chosen either have been or will be called, regenerated, sanctified and glorified. We read an abbreviated description of this process in Romans 8:30, which says that “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” To achieve this goal, God has given man his revelation, which tells us how we should live.

Marc Roby: And theologians refer to that as God’s revealed will.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Although Frame prefers to call it God’s preceptive will, which refers to his precepts, or commands. There are other names used as well, but I don’t want to get into all of them at this time. The main point here is that God has revealed to us what we are to do. And he doesn’t tell us everything we might like to know, but he has told us what we need to know.

Marc Roby: We see the difference between God’s decretive will and his revealed will clearly in Moses’ statement to the Israelites on the plains of Moab, to the east of the Jordon river, just before he died and Joshua led them into the Promised Land. He was going over the laws God had given them and in Deuteronomy 29:29 he told them, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

Dr. Spencer: And “The secret things” refers to God’s decretive will, those things which he has foreordained should come to pass, which is also sometimes called his secret will. And notice that Moses says they “belong to the LORD our God”, meaning that we often don’t know them until they come to pass and, since they belong to God, we aren’t to pry into them. But then there are the “things revealed”, which “belong to us and to our children forever”. This is God’s revealed will, or his preceptive will, and Moses gives us the reason for God’s giving it to us; it is so that “we may follow all the words of this law.”

Marc Roby: And we should take a moment to point out that it is great mercy on God’s part that he has given us this revelation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we should all take time to meditate on God’s amazing goodness and mercy to us. But before we finish for today there is a major difference between God’s decretive will and his preceptive will that we should point out. Let me quote from John Frame again. He correctly states that “God’s decretive will cannot be successfully opposed; what God has decreed will certainly take place. It is possible, however, for creatures to disobey God’s preceptive will – and they often do so.”[7]

Marc Roby: But, praise God, he also decreed, from before the creation of the world, to send a Savior to redeem his people. We read about that in 1 Peter 1:18-20, “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. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”

Dr. Spencer: That is wonderful. And it shows that God was not surprised by the fall. He planned all of creation and all of history before anything in this universe existed. He knew Satan would fall. He knew Adam would fall. He had it all planned. As you just read, Jesus Christ “was chosen before the creation of the world”. And what was he chosen to do? He was chosen to become incarnate, to be born to a virgin, to live a perfect sinless life and then to die a horrible death on the cross as a substitute for us. All of this was according to God’s decretive will.

Marc Roby: That’s astounding. And I look forward to continuing our discussion of God’s perfect will next time, but now it is time to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our best to respond to them.

 

[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 Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pp518-521

[3] Ibid, pg. 518

[4] Ibid, pg. 530

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid, pg. 531

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