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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Last time we finished our discussion of the doctrines represented by the acrostic TULIP; namely Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as we noted, the doctrines represented by the acrostic TULIP are the five doctrines that are characteristic of Reformed theology, which we believe to be the best theology for summarizing what the Bible teaches. They do not present the whole picture, but they do represent what distinguishes Reformed theology from Arminian theology, which is by far the most common theology presented in seminaries and churches today. They also distinguish Reformed theology from Lutheran theology, which is itself different from Arminian. And, I might add, there are differences even among groups who call themselves Arminian or Lutheran.

I don’t really want to get into all the history of the different Protestant denominations at this time, I would rather move on to look at the sequence of events in the application of the redemption accomplished by Christ to the lives of individual believers.

Marc Roby: And that sequence is usually called the ordo salutis, or order of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And the Bible never spells out the entire order in one place, but it does give us a partial list, which is often called the golden chain of salvation.[1] In Romans 8:30 the apostle Paul tells us that those God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”[2]

Marc Roby: And what a wonderful chain that is. It all began with God’s electing love in eternity past and it moves with absolute certainty to glorification. It is, from beginning to end, a marvelous demonstration of God’s love, mercy, power and wisdom.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is. And I want to take the time to go through the ordo salutis in some detail. We will, in general, follow the treatment given in John Murray’s excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, which we have used a number of times before. In that book he notes that “God is not the author of confusion and therefore he is the author of order. There are good and conclusive reasons for thinking that the various actions of the application of redemption … take place in a certain order, and that order has been established by divine appointment, wisdom, and grace.”[3]

Marc Roby: I know that not everyone agrees on the exact order, so what does Murray say about that?

Dr. Spencer: He discusses the order and points out that there are some items that must be put in a certain order and other items where the exact location in the sequence is debatable and not particularly important. We should also note that the order is not always a temporal order, some of it is, but some of the items only represent a logical order and may actually occur simultaneously.

Marc Roby: And where does Murray choose to begin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, you actually said it a couple of minutes ago when you said that it all began with God’s electing love in eternity past. Murray begins his exposition by saying that “No treatment of the atonement can be properly oriented that does not trace its source to the free and sovereign love of God.”[4]

Marc Roby: We can all say “amen” to that. If it weren’t for God’s love and mercy, we would all be eternally lost.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although God’s love isn’t just a step in the application of redemption, it is rather the one truth that underlies all of creation and redemption. There is also one other thing, which again isn’t a step in the process, but underlies the entire process, and that is union with Christ. Murray discusses this after going through the ordo salutis, but I think that is a bit anti-climactic, so I am going to deviate from him on this point and discuss union with Christ first.

Marc Roby: We have spoken about the believer’s union with Christ several times before, most notably way back in Sessions 13 and 14. In looking back at those, you quoted John Murray there also. He wrote that union with Christ is “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great quote and completely biblical.

As I said, union with Christ is not just a step in the application of redemption. The entire Christian life is lived in union with Christ. In Ephesians 1:4 Paul tells us that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world”, so in a sense all Christians, even those who have yet to be born, have been united to Christ for all eternity.

Marc Roby: And yet there is great mystery here since we are also told in the very next chapter, in Chapter 2 Verse 3, that before we were saved, “we were by nature objects of wrath.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great mystery. We are also told in Romans 5:10 that we were enemies of God and in Colossians 1:21 that we were alienated from God and were enemies in our minds because of our evil behavior. All of this emphasizes the amazing work that God does in saving us. Our alienation from God was real. Our being subject to the wrath of God was real. Our being enemies of God was real. And yet, in his eternal plan, he had already chosen us to be saved. In that sense, and only in that sense, we can be said to have been united to Christ in eternity past. But God still had to do a miraculous work and cause us to be born again in order to unite us to Christ in this life through the instrument of faith. A radical change had to take place, we needed new hearts.

Marc Roby: Which God promised to his people more than 500 years before Jesus was born. We read of that promise in Ezekiel 36:26, “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.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, what a glorious promise that is. And we have already quoted from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, where he wrote in the first chapter that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Then, in Chapter 2, he starts off in Verse 1 by saying that we were dead in our transgressions and sins and, as you quoted a minute ago, he says in Verse 3 that we were by nature objects of wrath. But he then goes in Verses 4 and 5 to say, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” This is the fulfillment of the promise given through the prophet Ezekiel. God makes us alive.

But the key point for our discussion today, is that God made us alive in Christ, and he did it because he had chosen us in Christ before the creation of the world.

Marc Roby: And Paul goes on in that chapter to say, in Verse 10, 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: That’s right. God’s ultimate purpose, of course, is his own glory. And we are to contribute to that by doing the work he has ordained for us to do. Just as Jesus brought God glory by finishing the work he was assigned, as he tells us in John 17:4. So we fulfil the command to glorify God by doing the work we have been assigned to do.

Marc Roby: And Paul gives us that command in 1 Corinthians 10:31, where he tells us “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. But getting back to the subject at hand, union with Christ is an amazing topic, on which all true Christians should take time to meditate. It will lead you to give great thanksgiving and praise to God for his amazing mercy, wisdom and power.

We have seen that we were chosen in Christ and that when God regenerated us we were made alive in Christ, or we can say created in Christ. But there is more that can be said. In Romans 6:4-8 we read that we were “buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a great description of the symbolism of baptism and also of the reality of the life of a true believer. Baptism all by itself doesn’t accomplish anything, it is just an outward sign of the inward change. But if the person who is baptized has truly been born again, then it is a true sign of the fact that he has died to his old, sinful way of life and has been enabled by regeneration to live a new life in union with Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. And our union with Christ will never end. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about Christ’s second coming and, in 1 Thessalonians 4:14, he wrote, “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.” Now “fallen asleep” is a euphemism for dying, so Paul is indirectly telling us in this verse that when believers die, they die in Christ.

Marc Roby: And Paul also tells us, in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 that “since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s wonderful, we will be united with Christ in being resurrected at his second coming. And we will also be united with Christ in sharing in his glory for all eternity in heaven. When he comes again we will all receive glorified bodies. We read 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: Now that is something to look forward to.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. And so we see that we were chosen in Christ, we were created, or we could say born again, in Christ, we live in Christ, we die in Christ, we will be raised from the dead in Christ, we will receive glorified bodies in Christ and we will spend eternity enjoying fellowship with God and one another in Christ.

Marc Roby: Hallelujah!

Dr. Spencer: Hallelujah indeed! John Murray wrote that “The perspective of God’s people … has two foci, one the electing love of God the Father in the counsels of eternity, the other glorification with Christ in the manifestation of his glory. The former has no beginning, the latter has no end.” And he went on to say, “What is it that binds past and present and future together in the life of faith and in the hope of glory? Why does the believer entertain the thought of God’s determinate counsel with such joy? Why can he have patience in the perplexities and adversities of the present? Why can he have confident assurance with reference to the future and rejoice in hope of the glory of God? It is because he cannot think of past, present, or future apart from union with Christ.”[6]

Marc Roby: What a wonderful statement of the glorious hope and joy that all true Christians have. I’m confident we could all benefit from spending more time meditating on it.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that.

Marc Roby: Do you have anything more you would like to say about our union with Christ?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. Murray goes on to make several important points. The first point he makes is that our union with Christ is spiritual.

Marc Roby: Now that’s a word that is often abused in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: And that was true even when Murray wrote this book over 60 years ago. He said that the term is frequently used “to denote what is little more than vague sentimentality.”[7]

Marc Roby: Yes, that is very much what we still see today, even among professing Christians.

Dr. Spencer: That is, unfortunately, true. But Murray explains that in the New Testament the word spiritual “refers to that which is of the Holy Spirit. … Hence when we say that union with Christ is Spiritual we mean, first of all, that the bond of this union is the Holy Spirit himself.”[8]

Marc Roby: And we must remember that the Holy Spirit is personal. He is the third person of the Holy Trinity, not some cosmic force or a metaphor for God’s influence through his Word or anything else people might imagine.

Dr. Spencer: That is very important. He is a person whom we can grieve when we sin and who instructs us, guides us and empowers us to live the Christian life. Romans 8:9-11 is a very important passage in this regard.

Marc Roby: Let me read that passage. The apostle Paul wrote to believers, saying “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

Dr. Spencer: There are two important points that we can make from that passage. First of all, we see that union with Christ involves all three persons of the godhead. Notice that Paul starts off referring to just “the Spirit”. He then refers to the “Spirit of God”, and then to the “Spirit of Christ”, then he refers to Christ himself being in us, and then to the “Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead”, which clearly refers to God the Father. We must notice the trinitarian nature of this passage. We will discuss this aspect of union with Christ more later.

Marc Roby: I’m definitely looking forward to that conversation.

Dr. Spencer: Secondly, we note that the Spirit lives in us, he is a person, not a power.

Another passage relating to the nature of this union is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. In this case the context is Paul’s addressing the serious nature of sexual sin, but in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 he wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is an amazing thing to consider, that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I think it is incomprehensible in fact. But it should cause us all to be far more careful how we live. We are never alone. God is with us. It isn’t just the fact that he sees and hears everything, but he is with us in a very intimate and personal way that we can’t really define or describe in detail. When Jesus says that a man has committed adultery in his heart if he looks at a woman lustfully, we have to realize that if we do that, or have any other thoughts that are sinful, the Holy Spirit is in us and knows those thoughts and feelings!

Marc Roby: You’re quite right in saying that we should all be more careful in how we live, and that includes our thoughts and emotions.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they are included. Murray goes on to explain a second thing that he means by saying that our union with Christ is spiritual. He means that it is a spiritual relationship, by which he means it is different than other kinds of unions. It is different than the union of the three persons in the godhead. It is different than the union of the two natures in Christ. And it is different than the union of body and soul in man. It is, he says, a union “which we are unable to define specifically.”[9]

Murray then goes on to make a second point with regard to our union with Christ. He says it is mystical.

Marc Roby: And I look forward to examining that in our next session, but we don’t have enough time left today to start a new subject, so we should stop here and I should remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would enjoy hearing from you.

[1] e.g., see R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 143

[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] Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 80

[4] Ibid, pg. 9

[5] Ibid, pg. 170

[6] Ibid, pg. 164

[7] Ibid, pp 165-166

[8] Ibid, pg. 166

[9] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. We finished discussing the doctrine of limited atonement in our last session. So, Dr. Spencer, what do you want to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, now that we have finished covering all five of the reformed doctrines represented by the acrostic TULIP, I’d like to show how these doctrines are interrelated and together comprise part of a logically-coherent understanding of the system of theology presented to us in the Bible.

Marc Roby: And we should remind our listeners that TULIP stands for the five reformed doctrines of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints.

Dr. Spencer: And we should also point out that these may not be the best possible descriptions of the doctrines, but they are commonly used terms. We should also say that these five doctrines do not fully summarize biblical soteriology, they only point to the major points of difference between Reformed and Arminian theology.

But, with all of that said, I want to look at how these doctrines all logically fit together. R.C. Sproul, in his book What is Reformed Theology? wrote that “The moral inability of fallen man is the core concept of the doctrine of total depravity or radical corruption. If one embraces this aspect of the T in TULIP, the rest of the acrostic follows by a resistless logic.”[1]

Marc Roby: I seem to recall you using that quote before.

Dr. Spencer: I did use part of it, but we didn’t go on at that time to show how the doctrines all fit together, which is what I want to do today. If we accept as true the clear biblical teaching that we are born sinful, we do not seek God, we suppress the truth, we are enemies of God and we are spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins, in other words that we are totally depraved, then the other four points of TULIP follow necessarily.

Marc Roby: And the things you just said are all biblical. Not only are we born sinful, but King David wrote, in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”[2] And Paul wrote in Romans 3:11 that “no one [] seeks God.” He also wrote in Romans 1:18 that men “suppress the truth by their wickedness” and in Romans 5:10 that “we were God’s enemies” and in Ephesians 2:1 he wrote that we “were dead in [our] transgressions and sins”.

Dr. Spencer: And if we take that as the starting point, the other four doctrines necessarily fall into place. So, let’s look at unconditional election first and see how it depends on and fits with total depravity.

Marc Roby: The alternative to unconditional election is, of course, that God elects, or chooses, whom to save based on some condition, in other words, based on something we do or don’t do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The standard position taken by most non-Reformed believers, like Arminians, is what is called the prescient view of election. The word prescient simply means to know something beforehand. In other words, this view is based on God’s foreknowledge. The idea is that since God knows everything that will ever happen, he looks into the future and sees who will accept his offer of salvation and he then elects those people to be saved.

Marc Roby: I know that those who hold this view often point to Romans 8:29 where we read that “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the proof text that is used, but it doesn’t support their contention. Let’s first note, as both sides will agree, that it is obviously not just speaking about God knowing someone in the sense we usually use that term because God knows everyone and the phrase “those God foreknew” is being used to identify a specific group of people.

Those who oppose the idea of unconditional election usually say this refers to God’s foreknowledge of the faith of some people. But, as John Murray points out in his commentary, “Even if it were granted that ‘foreknew’ means the foresight of faith, the biblical doctrine of sovereign election is not thereby eliminated or disproven. … The question would then simply be; whence proceeds this faith which God foresees? And the only biblical answer is that the faith which God foresees is the faith he himself creates”.[3] Murray then lists a number of Scriptures to make his point, beginning with the passage in John Chapter 3 where Christ tells Nicodemus that no one can see or enter the kingdom of God unless he has been born again, or born of the water and the spirit. (John 3:3,5)

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a powerful passage. Dead people don’t make themselves come alive. Similarly, it would make no sense to say that I caused myself to be born again.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. Murray also cites John 6:44, which we’ve looked at before. In that verse, Jesus says that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” The Greek word translated “draws” in that verse is ἑλκύω (helkuō) and it could also be rendered as drag, it is something that is done to you, not something you do and not just some gentle persuasion or suggestion. And to give just one more of the verses Murray cites, he lists Ephesians 2:8, which says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”. So our salvation comes through faith, it is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God.

Marc Roby: Those verses also clearly support the biblical doctrine of unconditional election.

Dr. Spencer: They do. And Murray also makes an argument from the Greek grammar that the proper meaning of the term foreknew in Romans 8:29 is really that God foreloved a certain group of people.[4]

Marc Roby: And because he loved them, he predestinated them to be saved.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And Martin Luther, in his commentary on Romans goes back one verse and looks at Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Luther notes that “This passage is the foundation on which rests everything that the Apostle says to the end of the chapter; for he means to show that to the elect who are loved of God and who love God, the Holy Spirit makes all things work for good even though they are evil”.[5]

Marc Roby: And when we read about those who love God, I immediately think of 1 John 4:19 where we read that “We love because he first loved us.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great verse to show that if we love God, it is in response to his prior love for us. Romans 8:28 also says that Paul is speaking about people who “have been called according to [God’s] purpose”, which immediately makes me think of Ephesians 1:11, where Paul wrote that “In him”, referring to Jesus Christ, “we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”.

We could again go through many more Scriptures, but the point is that because man is totally depraved, his election must be unconditional. He is incapable of doing anything on which his election could be conditioned.

Marc Roby: And that brings us to the L in TULIP, limited atonement.

Dr. Spencer: And since we just spent a number of sessions defending that doctrine I will be very brief here. Remember that all true Christians believe that the atonement is limited in some way since the only alternative is universalism, that everyone will be saved, and no Christian believes that. So, the real question is whether the atonement is limited in its effectiveness or its extent. But, if it is limited in its effectiveness, we have a serious problem.

Marc Roby: And why is that?

Dr. Spencer: Because our salvation would then depend, ultimately, on ourselves. If everyone is equally able to respond to the gospel, the difference between a person who is saved and one who is not saved must be found in the people themselves, not in God.

And if that were true, it would give us something to boast about, it would detract from God’s glory, it would mean that Christ was not telling the truth when he said “it is finished” from the cross and it would mean that we are not totally depraved. We would, in fact, be capable of doing at least one thing that pleases God, namely, choosing to repent and believe.

Marc Roby: And doing that would, in fact, be an act of obedience pleasing to God. Because in Acts 17:30 we are told that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.” And in 1 John 3:23 the apostle tells us that God’s command is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, to repent and believe would obviously be obedient to those commands and therefore pleasing to God, but in Romans 8:6-8 Paul tells us 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.” So, clearly it must not be possible for a person to repent and believe until and unless he or she is born again, which is a work that only God can do.

Marc Roby: And so we have now seen how total depravity, unconditional election and limited atonement are all inextricably linked together. That brings us to the doctrine of irresistible grace, how is it linked with the other elements of TULIP?

Dr. Spencer: Well, it is linked, again, by the doctrine of total depravity. If we are dead in our transgressions and sins, then we will resist God’s offer of salvation. Dead people don’t accept any offer, not matter how wonderful it is.

Marc Roby: That is a powerful argument. It doesn’t take any active effort for a dead person to “resist” an offer of salvation, he doesn’t have to do anything. He is dead! And he remains dead.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. When Christ commanded Lazarus to come forth from the tomb he did obey and came out. But I can say with absolute certainty that while he obeyed and walked out on his own power, he did not come back to life on his own power! God had to miraculously bring him back to life before he could hear and obey Christ’s command.

Marc Roby: And, in the same way, God must bring those who are dead in their sins to life by causing them to be born again. And only then can they obey the gospel call to repent and believe.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. But to use an even stronger biblical statement, we are by nature God’s enemies, we are actively hostile to him. The thought that we could somehow be brought to love God by an offer of grace without having our nature changed first is simply inconceivable. So let me read again a quote I’ve used before because it makes the point so clearly.

Marc Roby: Please do.

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?”[6]

Marc Roby: Yes, I do remember that passage, and I think it is impossible to successfully argue against Murray’s logic. Clearly, God’s grace must be irresistible or it will not bring about salvation.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And that brings us to the final doctrine in TULIP, the perseverance of the saints. This is again logically connected with the other doctrines. Remember that Christ’s atonement is either limited in its effectiveness or its extent. Reformed theology, in agreement with the Bible, says that the atonement is limited in its extent, not its effectiveness. If it were possible for a true Christian to fall away from the faith completely and finally, then we would again have to say that Christ’s atonement was not truly effective.

Marc Roby: I see your point. And we would again have a problem with Christ’s statement that “it is finished”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we would. Reformed, or biblical, theology says we must be born again first, and then we respond in repentance and faith. But if we think about that for a minute, it becomes obvious that we can’t fall away from faith completely and finally. If I have been born again, my fundamental nature has been changed. And nothing I do can destroy that change and make my nature go back to the old nature I had before. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Marc Roby: And yet, Christians still sin, and sometimes they can sin grievously. Look at King David committing adultery with Bathsheba and then murdering Uriah to try and cover it up. Or Peter denying three times that he even knew Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Those are the two most prominent examples of true believers falling into terrible sin. But they were both ultimately saved, neither one of them lost his salvation. We must remember the system of biblical doctrines represented by TULIP. We were dead in our sins, enemies of God. But because of his divine, eternal, electing love, not conditioned on anything we would or could ever do, he caused us to be born again and granted us the gift of repentance and faith. We do respond of course, but salvation is, ultimately, a sovereign work of God and his purposes cannot be thwarted by anyone. Christ spoke about the security of those who trust in him in John 10:28-29. He said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

Marc Roby: That is a glorious promise. My security is not based on my strength, but on God’s strength.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why Paul wrote to the church in Philippi saying, as we read in Philippians 1:6, that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God elected a certain number of people to eternal life, based on his own good pleasure and purposes, not conditioned on anything they can or did do. Then, in time, he causes each of his chosen people to hear the gospel and he regenerates them, giving them a new heart so that they can respond to the gospel in repentance and faith. He then works with them to sanctify them and he guarantees that he will complete the work he begins. That should not make us be complacent or lazy, quite the contrary, it should encourage us to work extra hard to please God as sinners saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Marc Roby: And so we see that the reformed doctrines represented by the acrostic TULIP, Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints all fit together logically.

Dr. Spencer: And they form a part of the biblical doctrine of salvation. In our next session, I want to move on and start looking at the specific steps in the salvation of a believer, called the order of salvation, or ordo salutis.

Marc Roby: Very well, I look forward to that. And I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’ll do our best to answer you.

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

[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, The Epistle to the Romans, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997, pg. 316

[4] Ibid, pp 316-317

[5] Martin Luther, Romans, pg. 130

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

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. We have been discussing the doctrine of limited atonement and in our last session we addressed the objection raised by some that this doctrine prevents the gospel from being an honest offer of salvation for everyone. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at another objection brought against the doctrine of limited atonement. Arminians and others will insist that we must affirm th at natural man has free will in the sense of being able to accept or reject God’s offer. This is really the same objection, just expressed from a different perspective, but it is worth discussing because the different perspective leads the discussion in a slightly different direction.

Marc Roby: Our discussion last week centered on showing that we can be justly held accountable for decisions we make even though those decisions are, at least in part, a result of our own nature, which is not something we ourselves chose or caused.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good short summary. And the core issue was whether or not our ability limits our responsibility. And that is again the core issue in saying that we must affirm man’s free will but, as I said, the free will perspective leads us in a slightly different direction.

To be precise, the objection assumes that it is unfair of God to judge someone for not responding to the gospel in repentance and faith unless the person is able to do so. In its most extreme form people are viewed as having what is called libertarian free will, which means that their decisions are entirely uncaused. Not only are they not controlled by God, but they are also not controlled by our nature, in other words our desires. They are absolutely free.

Marc Roby: We discussed this topic before and you pointed out, in Session 84, that this view of human free will is really illogical. Unless our decisions are just random events, there must be some reason why we choose one thing as opposed to another.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s true. And not only that, but if our choices were completely uncaused, how could we be held morally accountable for them? They would really just be random events, there wouldn’t be any intention, good or bad, behind them. In a very real sense, we would not be responsible for our choices. In fact, I don’t think you could legitimately call them choices, they would just be events that occurred, and events that involve us but are not deliberately chosen by us. So, far from ensuring that we can be justly held accountable for rejecting the gospel, the idea of libertarian free will destroys human accountability.

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting point.

Dr. Spencer: The theologian John Frame makes essentially the same argument. He has a very good short discussion of free will in his book Salvation Belongs to the Lord. He wrote that “if human action were completely uncaused, divorced from our character and desires, it would be a random accident, not a responsible choice. … So, in my judgment libertarian freedom is not the ground of moral responsibility; indeed, it destroys moral responsibility.”[1]

Instead of libertarian free will Frame argues in favor of what is called compatibilist freedom. As the name implies, this is a kind of freedom that is compatible with divine sovereignty. It is also, I would say, a freedom that is compatible with reason and experience.

Marc Roby: Alright, can you explain what this freedom is?

Dr. Spencer: It is the freedom to do what you want to do, within the obvious limits of what is physically possible of course. This is more or less what Jonathan Edwards had in mind in his treatise on free will, which we also discussed in Session 84. In this view, my desires and my logical thinking about consequences and so forth all come into play in my decision making, and when all the factors are considered, I do that which I most want to do.

This freedom is logically compatible with God’s sovereignty because my decisions are not random and God, with his perfect exhaustive knowledge of me and all of my circumstances, can predict with absolute certainty what I will freely do. He can then also change my circumstances or put thoughts in my mind as needed to bring about exactly the end he so desires. But in no case does the Bible teach that God forces me to do anything, I do have compatibilist freedom.

Marc Roby: Very well. Do you have anything more you want to say on the topic?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. The topic is so important that I want look at it in a slightly different way. And John Frame has a more in-depth treatment of human responsibility and freedom in Chapter 8 of his book The Doctrine of God and I think he makes a helpful distinction there between two different uses of the word responsibility.[2]

Marc Roby: What two uses are those?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we sometimes use the word responsibility to refer to accountability, and sometimes to refer to liability. Accountability assumes that there is an authority who is going to judge us and hold us accountable, while liability has to do with our incurring a debt of some sort because of the actual results of our actions. But the results of our actions can depend on things outside of our control and we are not, therefore, always fully liable for them. So, for example, if I am in a traffic accident, I am accountable for my own actions, but if wrong actions by others contribute to the accident making it much worse than it would otherwise have been, I am not fully liable for all of the damages.

Marc Roby: How does that distinction apply to the issue of human freedom?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first, we are fully responsible, in the sense of being accountable, for our actions. God is the ultimate judge of all and will hold everyone accountable. We are even responsible for our moral nature. Frame correctly says that “We are responsible for what we are. We did not individually make ourselves evil by nature, but we are responsible for that evil anyway. Our inheritance from Adam is not the result of our individual choice, but we must bear the guilt of it.”[3]

Marc Roby: I agree that that is the biblical teaching, but it is still hard for people to accept.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it definitely is hard for us to accept, but it is true. Therefore, if we are Christians, we must embrace it as the truth. And as we’ve noted before, none of us would have done any better than Adam did anyway. God chose the perfect representative. Therefore, there is nothing unfair about it.

In fact, to give a silly example, but one that helps to illustrate the point, imagine some perverse dictator who decides to have a one-on-one basketball game to determine whether or not I get to go on living. I’m much better off if Lebron James plays for me than I would be if I play for myself. Similarly, I think it is safe to assume that Adam was a better representative than I would have been.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a silly, but nonetheless interesting, illustration. And so we are responsible for our actions in the sense of being accountable, even if those actions are determined by our inherited nature. But what about responsibility in the sense of liability? How does that fit into the discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Frame points out correctly that it is biblical to say that ability may, to some extent, limit responsibility in terms of liability. Let me give a biblical example.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: After God gave his people the Ten Commandments, he had Moses give them a number of specific examples for how to apply those commandments. For example, in Exodus 22:2-3 we read that “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.” [4]

Marc Roby: The second half of that statement makes it obvious that in the first case, it is assumed that the thief broke into the home during the night. And it would seem that this specific application takes into account the fact that I am more capable of a measured response in the daytime than I would be at night.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is exactly the case, yes. If someone breaks in at night you can’t see as well and may have been awakened out of your sleep and not know if the person is just trying to steal something or is a danger to your person or your family, whereas in the daytime you are better able to properly assess the danger to yourself and your family and to respond in a less drastic way. So, the Bible recognizes that while I am accountable for my actions in both scenarios, I am not equally liable for the results of my actions at night because I am not as capable of properly assessing and responding to the situation.

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting example.

Dr. Spencer: And let me give just one more, this time from the New Testament. In Luke 12 Jesus told us about two different servants. In Verses 47-48 we read that he said, “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Marc Roby: That short parable makes a clear point that being given more knowledge or ability or whatever increases our responsibility.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, in terms of our liability, but not in terms of our accountability. Notice that both servants were punished, so both were held accountable. But the one with greater knowledge was punished more severely. His liability was greater because his knowledge was greater.

Marc Roby: Alright, so how does this apply specifically to the case of limited atonement?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, without God, there would be no ultimate accountability at all. Therefore, Frame wrote that “Without God’s control over the universe, there could be no human responsibility.”[5] And he was specifically speaking about responsibility in the sense of accountability in that passage.

Marc Roby: That certainly makes sense. The whole concept of accountability requires that there be someone to whom we are accountable. But what about liability?

Dr. Spencer: Well, when it comes to liability, I think it is clear biblically that people will be judged differently based on how much revelation they have received. For example, in Hebrews 10:26-29 we read that “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

Marc Roby: That should be terrifying to anyone who has been a member of a good church and then walked away from the faith.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it should be. And it isn’t the most terrifying passage in that regard. In Hebrews 6:4-6 we read, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

Marc Roby: You’re right. That’s even more frightening. And praise God that what is impossible with man is possible with God.

Dr. Spencer: Praise God indeed. We also have the parable of the prodigal son to give us hope for those we know who have walked away from the faith. But the point is still powerfully made that the greater our knowledge and experience of the truth, the greater our liability is for rejecting it.

Marc Roby: That is clear. I can also think of another clear verse about our knowledge or ability influencing our liability before God. James warned his readers, in James 3:1, that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is not one of my favorite verses, but it does make the point. And tying this all back into the doctrine of limited atonement, I am confident that those who have never heard the gospel will be punished less severely than those who have heard and rejected it. They will still be punished for not seeking God however. We read in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” But it is still true that the punishment of those with greater revelation will be worse.

Marc Roby: And so God is not unfair in judging all men, independent of whether or not they have heard the gospel message.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God is not unfair to anyone. He treats some people with perfect justice and he treats his elect with mercy. But no one is treated unjustly.

Marc Roby: That’s a very important point.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And so, to wrap up what I want to say about the doctrine of limited atonement, let me simply point out that those who oppose this doctrine don’t do so on the basis of biblical exegesis. Rather, they oppose it because their human reason concludes that it is somehow unfair. Then they try to find biblical support for the position. But, as we saw in our previous sessions on this topic, the supposed support they cite is very weak and is equally compatible with the Reformed doctrine. The biblical position is actually clear if you do not allow yourself to sit in judgment over the Word of God.

Marc Roby: I’m reminded of Paul’s response to man’s objection that God’s electing some people to salvation is unfair. In Romans 9:19 Paul states the objection by writing “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” In other words, how can you blame me for not repenting and believing if I am unable to do so because of my sinful nature? And he then Paul gives us God’s response in Verse 20, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”’”

Dr. Spencer: That is the most definitive answer given to us on this topic. Paul would never have had to ask and answer that question if he had been teaching something other than the doctrine of limited atonement.

Marc Roby: We are just about out of time for today, do you have anything else you’d like to add to the discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, in his book Salvation Belongs to the Lord John Frame wrote that “The fundamental point here is not the limited extent of the atonement, though that is a biblical teaching. The fundamental point is the efficacy of the atonement.”[6] In other words, the most important issue biblically is that we uphold the truth that God saves his people. He does not just make salvation possible and leave it up to us, he saves us. We were dead in transgressions and sins as we read in Ephesians 2:1 and God made us alive with Christ as it says in Ephesians 2:5.

John Murray wrote that “when we examine the Scripture we find that the glory of the cross of Christ is bound up with the effectiveness of its accomplishment. Christ redeemed us to God by his blood, he gave himself a ransom that he might deliver us from all iniquity. The atonement is efficacious substitution.”[7] Jesus Christ’s sacrifice actually accomplished our salvation, it did not just make it possible for us to be saved.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful conclusion. Now let me close by reminding our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’ll do our best to answer you.

[1] John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, P&R Publishing, 2006, pg. 96

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002

[3] Ibid, pg. 120

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

[5] Ibid, pg. 125

[6] John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, P&R Publishing, 2006, pg. 153

[7] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 75

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