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Marc Roby: After taking a week off to discuss the proper Christian response to the current corona virus pandemic, we are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Dr. Spencer, are we ready to start looking at the order of salvation, or ordo salutis as it is often called?

Dr. Spencer: We are indeed ready. In Session 141 three weeks ago we noted that salvation began in eternity past with God’s sovereign electing love. We then also noted that, as John Murray put it in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation”[1] is our union with Christ.

Marc Roby: And we have spent the bulk of two sessions examining that union, which is a wonderfully edifying topic.

Dr. Spencer: Well, that’s an understatement for sure.

Marc Roby: I also recall that you mentioned what is often called the golden-chain of salvation in Romans 8:30 where the apostle Paul wrote that those whom God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: I did quote that verse because it is the closest thing in the Bible to a single statement of the ordo salutis. I also noted that some of the steps in the complete order, although not those in the golden chain, can be moved without serious theological consequences and that some of them are not meant to be interpreted temporally, but rather logically. And so we are almost ready to give the order.

Marc Roby: What else do you want to say before we give the order?

Dr. Spencer: I want to point out that because we are all by nature objects of God’s wrath, our greatest need is to be reconciled to God. We need to take a moment to appreciate God’s amazing, gracious plan of salvation.

Murray points out that God has provided for our greatest need in a way that “exhibits the overflowing abundance of God’s goodness, wisdom, grace, and love. The superabundance appears in the eternal counsel of God respecting salvation; it appears in the historic accomplishment of redemption by the work of Christ once for all; and it appears in the application of redemption continuously and progressively till it reaches its consummation in the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is wonderful. And I look forward to the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

Dr. Spencer: As do all of God’s adopted children, that is our eternal destiny. And, with all of that said, I think we are now ready to give the actual list.

Marc Roby: Should I give you a drum roll?

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think that’s necessary. John Murray first lists the following five items; effectual calling, regeneration, faith, justification, and finally, glorification.[4]

Marc Roby: And three of those five elements are listed in that golden chain of salvation by Paul.

Dr. Spencer: They are. Paul lists calling, justification and glorification in that order. Murray then inserts regeneration and faith, in that order, after calling and before justification. Now the order of regeneration and calling could be reversed with no major problems, but they must come before justification as we will discuss in more detail later.

After giving these five basic elements, Murray then adds the other elements that are usually included in the list.

Marc Roby: And what are those?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the first is repentance, which as Murray says is “the twin sister of faith – we cannot think of the one without the other.”[5]

Marc Roby: Well, biblical repentance is a turning away from and forsaking our sins, and biblical faith is a turning to Christ in complete trust, so what Murray says makes perfectly good sense. Repentance and faith are really two sides of the same coin; you turn away from sin and to God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. So whether you put repentance before faith or faith before repentance doesn’t really matter, although I personally like repentance first because at least logically you turn away from sin first and then you turn to God. As is often said, you need to hear the bad news before you will receive the good news. But true biblical repentance and faith always occur together. The word conversion can also be used to represent both repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: What does Murray add to the list next?

Dr. Spencer: Adoption, which is an amazing doctrine. God doesn’t just forgive our sins, which is incredible enough in and of itself, he also adopts us as his children. We are told in John 1:12 that God gives to all who receive Jesus Christ, who believe in his name, “the right to become children of God”.

Marc Roby: That is a staggering privilege. We find it difficult to forgive those who sin against us in any serious way, but God not only forgives, he brings us into his family.

Dr. Spencer: That does blow your mind, doesn’t it? And we’ll talk about it in more detail later of course, but for now we just need to note that adoption must come after justification. As Murray correctly notes, “we could not think of one being adopted into the family of God without first of all being accepted by God and made an heir of eternal life.”[6]

Marc Roby: That makes good sense.

Dr. Spencer: Murray next places sanctification in the sequence. He wrote, “Sanctification is a process that begins, we might say, in regeneration, finds its basis in justification, and derives its energizing grace from the union with Christ which is effected in effectual calling. Being a continuous process rather than a momentary act like calling, regeneration, justification and adoption, it is proper that it should be placed after adoption in the order of application.”[7]

Marc Roby: That again sounds perfectly reasonable.

Dr. Spencer: And that brings us to the last element, which is perseverance. Murray wrote that “Perseverance is the concomitant and complement of the sanctifying process and might conveniently be placed either before or after sanctification.”[8] While I agree that it goes along with sanctification, I prefer to place it after sanctification, which is where Murray places it, simply because we must persevere to the very end of this life.

Marc Roby: Very well, the entire order then, as given by Murray, would be the following: effectual calling, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and finally, glorification.

Dr. Spencer: That is the order he uses and the one we will use. And we are now ready to start with the first item on the list, effectual calling.

Marc Roby: And how would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: I want to go through a few of the questions and answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism because it does an outstanding job. Question 29 asks, “How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?”

Marc Roby: And the answer is that “We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.”

Dr. Spencer: Which makes two very important points. First, Jesus Christ is the one who accomplished our redemption. He purchased our freedom from sin with his blood. Secondly, it is primarily the Holy Spirit who applies redemption to believers. The Catechism goes on, logically, in Question 30 by asking, “How does the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?”

Marc Roby: And the answer is that “The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.”

Dr. Spencer: We see several important things in this short answer. First, we again see that our redemption is accomplished, or purchased, by Christ. Second, the Spirit applies that redemption to us by working faith in us; in other words, by bringing us to saving faith, which we shall see requires that we be regenerated, or born again. And third, one result of this faith is that we are united to Jesus Christ as we have discussed in the past couple of weeks.

Then, in Question 31 the Catechism gets right to the issue we are dealing with and asks, “What is effectual calling?”

Marc Roby: And the answer given is that “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very rich answer. There is a lot of information packed into a single sentence. First, we note that effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit. God is the active agent. We are passive recipients. Murray notes that “the fact that God is its author forcefully reminds us that the pure sovereignty of God’s work of salvation is not suspended at the point of application any more than at the point of design and objective accomplishment.”[9]

Marc Roby: In other words, salvation is God’s plan, God’s accomplishment and then he applies it to individual believers.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although we do not remain entirely passive, we do respond as we’ll see. Murray also notes that “It is God the Father who is the specific agent in the effectual call.”[10] He cites Romans 8:29-30 again to support this view.[11] In Verse 29 we are told that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son”. Since this verse speaks of “his Son” it is obvious that it is speaking about God the Father, so in the following verse, Verse 30, when it says that “those he predestined, he also called”, it is obviously saying that God the Father does the calling. Murray also cites 1 Corinthians 1:9, where we read, “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

Marc Roby: That again makes it clear that it is the Father who does the calling.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does, so Murray’s claim is completely biblical. The second thing we see in the Catechism answer is that the Spirit convinces us of our sin and misery.

Marc Roby: Well, we obviously must recognize the problem before we are going to be interested in the solution to the problem.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. You can’t put the cart before the horse. We must first receive the bad news that we are sinners under the wrath of God and headed for hell before we will be receptive to God’s solution to that problem, the good news of the gospel. And that leads directly to the third thing we see in the Catechism answer. The Spirit enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ.

Marc Roby: And some knowledge is surely necessary for salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Knowledge alone won’t save us, but true saving faith has specific content, it isn’t just some nebulous feeling or vague generality. We must know that we are sinners, deserving God’s wrath, and that Jesus Christ, who was completely sinless, took our sins upon himself, went to the cross, and bore the wrath of God on our behalf. God then raised him from the dead to demonstrate that he had accepted the offering and that death had no hold on Jesus Christ. We can’t be saved without knowing, believing and trusting in these biblical truths.

Marc Roby: And these are not metaphorical truths. For example, Christ was really, physically, raised from the dead. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:20 that “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Dr. Spencer: And this idea of firstfruits implies an abundant harvest to follow. That harvest is all of the elect. And now comes a key piece God’s solution to our problem. In our natural state we are all enemies of God, dead in our transgressions and sins. It is impossible for those who are God’s enemies, and who hate him, to respond to this knowledge favorably. And so the Catechism next says that the Spirit “does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ”. This is speaking about regeneration, or new birth, without which no one can or will be saved.

Marc Roby: Jesus himself told Nicodemus, as we read in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And then, in John 3:5 Jesus added, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

Dr. Spencer: Effectual calling and regeneration are very tightly linked. In fact, in seventeenth century theology they were often either spoken of as synonymous or regeneration was thought of as a part of effectual calling.[12] One way to distinguish them is to say that the effectual call is external, while regeneration is, as Murray describes it, “the beginning of inwardly operative saving grace.”[13]

Marc Roby: And, of course, the idea of God’s call being efficacious is consistent with what the Old Testament says as well. In Isaiah 55:10-11 God says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful passage. No one can thwart God’s plan. We can’t stop the rain from watering the earth and we can’t stop his call from being effectual. But there is also what is sometimes called the general call, which can be distinguished from God’s effectual call. Not everyone who hears the gospel is born again and then responds in repentance and faith. Although Murray points out that when the New Testament refers to a call with reference to salvation, it is almost always referring to the effectual call.[14]

Marc Roby: I suppose the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew Chapter 22 is a possible exception.

Dr. Spencer: Murray agrees with you. For those who don’t remember the parable, there is a king who gives a wedding banquet for his son, but the people originally invited to the banquet all make excuses and refuse to come. So the king orders his servants to go out into the streets and invite anyone they can find. When the banquet hall is filled with people, the king notices one man who isn’t wearing wedding clothes. We then read, in Matthew 22:13-14, “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Marc Roby: I think many people find that parable somewhat disturbing.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that. But the idea is simple. There is a general gospel call that goes out to everyone, and salvation is free, it cannot be purchased. But, we cannot come on our own terms. Only those whom God has chosen will be granted new birth, will then repent, believe and be united to Jesus Christ. Those who do so, will be clothed in the righteousness of Christ himself as we read in Galatians 3:27, “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Marc Roby: That is most glorious truth, and I look forward to spending more time on this discussion next week, but it seems like a wonderful place to close for today. So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would enjoy hearing from you.

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 170

[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, op. cit., pg. 79

[4] Ibid, see the bottom of page 86

[5] Ibid, pg. 87

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid, pg. 89

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid, pg. 90

[12] Lois Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 470

[13] Murray, op. cit., pg 93

[14] Ibid, pg. 88

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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 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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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 Dr. Spencer, in our last session you made a solid case for the Reformed, or biblical, position that Christ only died to save his elect. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: We could go on examining more verses that support the biblical case for limited atonement, but I really don’t think there is any need to do that. If you read through the New Testament with this question in mind, the biblical teaching is clear. I think most people who reject this doctrine do so for reasons other than biblical exegesis. Therefore, rather than continuing down that course, I would like to look at the major objections usually raised against this doctrine of limited atonement, or particular redemption as it is sometimes called.

Marc Roby: Very well, what objection do you want to handle first?

Dr. Spencer: That this doctrine makes the offer of salvation somehow disingenuous. In other words, that if this doctrine is true, we cannot make a free offer of salvation to someone honestly, which would be deadly to the great commission given to us by Christ when he commanded us in Matthew 28:18 to “go and make disciples of all nations” [1].

In order to think about this objection, let’s first consider the case of the apostle Paul and his companion Barnabas preaching to the people in Pisidian Antioch.

Marc Roby: We know that the first thing they did was go into the synagogue and preach to the Jews. In fact, we are told in Acts 17 that doing so was Paul’s custom (Verse 2).

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And their preaching drew large crowds, so we read in Acts 13:45-48, “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”’ When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

Marc Roby: That passage is yet another one that teaches the doctrine of limited atonement, it clearly says that those who were “appointed” for eternal life believed. But what does it have to do with the objection about the gospel offer not being genuine if limited atonement is true?

Dr. Spencer: Well, consider all of those who heard Paul and Barnabas and yet were not appointed for eternal life. They also had the gospel preached to them. Back in Verses 38-39 of Acts 13 we read that Paul had told them, “through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified”. So, the question is, was that a lie? Was the forgiveness of sins not really being offered to them at all? If it wasn’t possible for some of them to believe because of their unregenerate nature, was it a genuine offer?

Marc Roby: Well that is definitely an objection that you frequently hear. How would you respond?

Dr. Spencer: I would first point out that the question has a hidden assumption built into it.

Marc Roby: What assumption is that?

Dr. Spencer: That our ability limits our responsibility. In other words, if we are unable to respond positively to the gospel call to repent and believe, then according to this view we cannot be held responsible for failing to repent and believe.

Marc Roby: I think that is a very common notion.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that it is common, but we need to be very careful and think this through. It is a topic that can get very emotional and we can be easily led astray if we don’t think carefully and, as Christians, we must not only think carefully, but biblically.

Let’s begin by dealing with one case that you might think is pretty obvious and easy. If I am physically forced to do something, I am not morally responsible for that action.

Marc Roby: That seems perfectly reasonable and I suspect all of our listeners would agree.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure they will. But now try and come up with real examples and you will see that it becomes much more difficult. For example, suppose I work for a bank and know the combination to the safe. Now suppose a robber comes in and puts a gun to my head and tells me to open the safe. I think we would all agree that I am not guilty of theft if I open the safe for him. No rational person would expect me to surrender my life to save some of the bank’s money.

Marc Roby: Agreed.

Dr. Spencer: But now think about a soldier in the German army in World War II being commanded to help run the gas chambers at Auschwitz. He would have every good reason to believe that if he refused, he would be killed. Is he now morally responsible if he participates?

Marc Roby: I think almost everyone would say that he is, although they might disagree about the extent of his guilt.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And yet, what if a gun was actually pointed at his head and he was told to pull the handle that would release the gas? I think most people would still say that he should refuse, and could be held accountable if he didn’t, but we all start to get a little nervous about it because we realize that he is, in a sense, being forced. The reason most people would say the soldier is responsible, whereas the bank employee is not, is that the crime the soldier is being forced to commit is not just stealing money, but killing innocent people. Therefore, most people would say he should refuse even if it costs him his life.

I bring this up only to show that it is much more difficult than you think to decide some cases. But, even here, we would clearly not hold the person accountable if someone much stronger than he grabbed him and physically made him pull the handle even though he did his best to oppose the act.

Marc Roby: I think we can all agree to that.

Dr. Spencer: OK, so we’ve done away with the easiest case, which was still not always as easy as we might like. Now let’s get to a harder case. What about the person who is an alcoholic and, even knowing that he is, goes into a bar, gets drunk, and then causes an accident that kills someone as he’s driving home? Is he guilty of murder?

Marc Roby: I’m sure that most people would say he is responsible, although he is clearly not guilty of pre-meditated murder since he never intended to kill anyone.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But it was, in another sense, premeditated. He deliberately went into the bar knowing that he would get drunk and knowing that he was going to drive home afterward and therefore he knew, or certainly should have known, that it was entirely possible he would kill someone in a car accident. And this gets even more difficult if you believe, as many people do, that alcoholism is itself some kind of illness for which the person himself is not responsible.

Marc Roby: Yes, that view is very common as well.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And whether it is right or not isn’t important for our present discussion. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there is some genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Even with that assumption, the man was not forced to go into the bar, he was not forced to drink and get drunk, and he was not forced to get into his car and try to drive home. Therefore, most people, while perhaps feeling very sorry for him, will still hold him accountable for his actions.

Marc Roby: Although the penalty will be far less severe than if he had killed the person deliberately.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and quite appropriate. But my point for the present discussion is simply this; even if a person’s nature is such that there is a strong tendency to act in a certain way, we hold the person accountable for his actions.

Marc Roby: I suspect that our listeners can all agree that that is the case.

Dr. Spencer: And now let me point out something else. We all know what it is like to have a very strong desire to say or do something that we know we shouldn’t. Some situation presents itself and we have a desire that we ourselves judge to be inappropriate. Now some of those desires are only mildly inappropriate and would, at most, garner a disapproving look from others, but some of those desires are far more inappropriate and would lead to serious consequences.

Marc Roby: Unfortunately, I’m quite confident that everyone knows what you are talking about.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure we all do. But most people are able to say “no” to such desires, especially the ones that are seriously wrong. Now, we may say “no” more out of the fear of the consequences than from some more noble motive, but we say “no” nonetheless. However, the daily news bears clear witness to the fact that not everyone is able to quell their worst desires all the time. People steal, assault, rape, murder and so on. We do, of course, in our legal proceedings take mitigating factors into account, but we don’t just say the person is not responsible because he or she was doing what they desired, even though we may have, at one time or another, experienced a similar desire ourselves.

Marc Roby: Of course not. Getting angry and wanting to punch someone is something we can all relate to, but actually acting on that momentary urge is something far more serious.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s clear. And so I finally come to the point I wanted to make. We do consider our internal nature to be something for which we can be justifiably judged. We do it ourselves when we judge some desire to be inappropriate and therefore don’t act on it, and we do it as a society when we judge someone for acting on an inappropriate desire. The key point is that we can, in fact, be held morally accountable for our actions even though we may not be 100% responsible for our own nature, which produced those actions.

Marc Roby: And so, I assume your conclusion is, that when someone hears the gospel and fails to respond in repentance and faith, he can be justifiably held accountable because he is not being forced to refuse.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Even though his nature prevents him from repenting and believing. As Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” That statement is true for every one of us. We were all born enemies of God. It is the sinful nature we inherited from our first father, Adam. But in terms of our behavior, we are free to do what we want to do and we can, therefore, be reasonably held accountable for that behavior. God’s offer of salvation in the gospel is genuine, the fact that people who have not been born again cannot respond because of their sinful nature and enmity against God does not do away with the sincerity of the offer. God will save all who come to him in true repentance and faith.

The idea that we can’t be responsible for our decisions unless they are absolutely free decisions, meaning that we have the ability to choose any possible option, is simply not true.

Marc Roby: I see your point just based on our own understanding of human behavior and responsibility, but, of course, the most important question for a Christian is this, what does the Word of God say about it?

Dr. Spencer: That is the most important question, and the Bible makes it clear that God will hold everyone eternally accountable for how they respond to whatever revelation they have received. If someone has never heard the gospel message, he will still be held accountable for not having sought God, because as Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-20, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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.”

Marc Roby: In other words, there is no innocent native in some far corner of the earth who is free from condemnation because he has never heard about God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. That person simply does not exist. All men are without excuse. But, of course, there will be even greater judgment for those who have heard the gospel and still do not repent and believe. Jesus himself told us in John 3:18 that “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: That is not a popular verse in our society, which treats religion as if it were just a part of culture and that every religion therefore, is as good as every other.

Dr. Spencer: It is a monstrously unpopular idea. But that doesn’t decide the case, does it? The facts that we all get sick and die are also universally unpopular, but they are true nonetheless.

We got into this question about whether our ability limits our responsibility because I said that it was an unstated assumption behind the accusation that the doctrine of limited atonement prevents us from making an honest offer of the gospel to people we meet. I would now like to address that objection head on.

Marc Roby: Very well, how would you respond to that objection?

Dr. Spencer: I would say that the exact opposite is true. If the atonement was not limited in its applicability, in other words if Christ died to pay for the sins of every single human being, then the atonement would be limited in its effectiveness as we noted in Session 136. And in that case, we would not be offering the full powerful salvation that God offers to sinners. Let me quote John Murray’s book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. He wrote that “The truth really is that it is only on the basis of such a doctrine”, by which he means the doctrine of limited atonement, “that we can have a free and full offer of Christ to lost men. What is offered to men in the gospel? It is not the possibility of salvation, not simply the opportunity of salvation. What is offered is salvation. To be more specific, it is Christ himself in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work who is offered.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is an important point. We read in John 19:30 that just before Jesus died on the cross Jesus himself said, “it is finished.” He could not have said that if he only made salvation possible. He would then only have been able to say that his part in the work was finished, but we still had work to do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite true. Let me offer an analogy that has been used before. Picture someone drowning in the ocean. He is being swamped by waves and is on the verge of going under for the last time. The idea that Christ died to make salvation possible for all is analogous to simply throwing this drowning man a life saver. It doesn’t actually save him; he still has to find the strength to reach out and lay ahold of it. But that is not the biblical picture of salvation. The biblical idea is that we aren’t just drowning, we are already on the bottom of the ocean dead. A life saver will do us no good. God reaches down and brings us up from the bottom and gives us new life in Christ.

Marc Roby: I think you have used that analogy before, but it is a wonderful illustration of the true, powerful offer of salvation contained in the gospel.

Dr. Spencer: It is a great picture, yes. We do our part when we present the gospel to the people we come in contact with. We have no way of knowing which of them have been chosen by God for eternal life, but we know that those whom God has chosen will be born again by the powerful working of God’s Holy Spirit and will then respond to the gospel call with true repentance and faith. They may not respond right away, but that is all in God’s hands. The fact that his power is at work in saving people gives us the confidence to preach the gospel. That is why Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”. He knew that the gospel is the instrument through which God brings people to salvation. It isn’t just an offer that they can accept or reject, it is true salvation for the elect.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful truth. God will save his people from their sins. Our confidence is in God and his great power, not in our faith, or our good works, or anything else in all creation.

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.” Salvation is the work of God from beginning to end. He began it in eternity past by choosing a particular group of people whom he planned to save, he brings it about in the life of every individual believer by causing him or her to hear the gospel, by regenerating them so that they can respond to the gospel in repentance and faith, and then working with them to sanctify them and, ultimately, to bring them into heaven to spend eternity with him.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful and powerful salvation to be sure. I know you have another objection to the doctrine of limited atonement that you want to address, but I think it will have to wait until next week. Right now, I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to respond to 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 Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 65

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. At the end of our last session we were discussing the reformed, or biblical, doctrine of God’s irresistible grace. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we have already noted that this doctrine, while it is denied by the post-reformation Roman Catholic church, Arminians and Lutherans, is biblical. It was not something that first appeared in the reformation though, it had been the teaching of the Roman Catholic church, through St. Augustine, long before the reformation. But, the most important question, in fact, the only one that really matters, is what does the Word say? And, on that score, the answer is clear.

Marc Roby: In our last session we quoted Roman 8:30 in support of this doctrine, which says that those God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: And that passage, which is sometimes called the “golden chain” of salvation[2], is clear biblical support for irresistible grace. But there is much more.

Marc Roby: What other Scriptures would you cite in support of the doctrine?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let’s begin in the Old Testament. God tells us in Isaiah 55:10-11, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Marc Roby: That is a clear statement of the efficacy of God’s Word. What other Scriptures would you cite?

Dr. Spencer: In the famous passage in Ezekiel 36:26-27, God declares, “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.” And note that God says I will give you a new heart, I will remove your heart of stone, and I will put my Spirit in you to move you to follow my decrees.

God doesn’t just make salvation possible and hold out an invitation for us to accept or reject, he removes our old heart, gives us a new one, and puts his Spirit in us to move us to obedience. In other words, he causes us to be born again.

Marc Roby: And, as we noted last time, that metaphor of new birth is itself significant evidence that we play no role in our regeneration. It is a monergistic work of God.

Dr. Spencer: And a monergistic work means a work that is done by one person alone, in this case, God. It is the opposite of a synergistic work in which two or more parties cooperate. Just as no one is responsible for bringing about his own physical birth, so no one is responsible, even in part, for bringing about his own re-birth.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of what John wrote in his gospel. In John 1:12-13 we read, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a good passage. Our new birth is not the result of human decision. This is really the crux of the issue in irresistible grace. Does God cause us to be born again, or do we cooperate? Those who want to say we cooperate are concerned with preserving the idea of man’s free will, while those who say we do not cooperate are concerned with preserving God’s sovereignty.

Marc Roby: And, of course, as you said earlier, the only question that really matters is what does the Word of God say?

Dr. Spencer: And, while we have not gone through all of the verses we could, we have adduced a number of verses to argue that Scripture teaches that God is sovereign not only in electing some to salvation, but then in bringing that salvation about by the irresistible working of his Holy Spirit causing a person to be born again.

But we must be careful to note that we still truly and freely respond to God’s call. He monergistically changes our nature through re-birth but then, in that new nature, we freely choose to repent and believe. As it says in the Westminster Confession of Faith, “All those whom God has predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.”[3]

Marc Roby: This goes back to our discussion of free will. We do have the freedom to choose what to do, but our choice will always be consistent with our nature. Prior to being regenerated, all men are enemies of God and will not, in fact cannot turn to him in faith.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, Paul wrote in Romans 8:7-8 that “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.” And repenting and believing would please God, so they are among those things that an unregenerate person simply cannot do.

And finishing what you were saying about the fact that we do have the ability to choose what to do, once God causes us to be born again, we have a new heart. In other words, we have a new mind, will, affections and so on.

Marc Roby: I like the way Paul puts it in Romans 6:18. He says that “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: That expresses it very well. Before God regenerates us, we are slaves to sin and could not choose what is good, but then regeneration frees us from sin and we become slaves to righteousness. And so, as new creations in Christ Jesus, we freely choose to repent, believe and walk in obedience.

Marc Roby: What Paul calls the obedience of faith in Romans 1:5.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The question boils down to how significant is that work that is required to save us? Is it just a matter of persuading us to the truth of the gospel? Or, as the doctrine of total depravity would indicate and as the Bible teaches, are we truly enemies of God in need of a whole new nature? The 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge wrote that “If regeneration is a change effected by the man’s own will; if it be due to the mere force of truth and motives, it is a small affair. But if it be the effect of the mighty power of God, it is as to its nature and consequences supernatural and divine. The whole nature of Christianity turns on this point.”[4]

Marc Roby: Now that is a strong statement.

Dr. Spencer: It is very strong, but I think it is correct. We don’t just need a little help to be saved, we need radical change. The biblical doctrines all logically fit together. Back in Session 128 I quoted R.C. Sproul, who wrote that “If one embraces this aspect of the T in TULIP, the rest of the acrostic follows by a resistless logic.”[5]

If we are totally depraved, then we are incapable of responding to God’s command to repent and believe. Therefore, if our salvation depended on us, no one would be saved. God must work first. And the very first thing God did with regard to our salvation was accomplished in eternity past. We read in Ephesians 1:4 that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

Marc Roby: And that election must have been unconditional if total depravity is true since there is nothing in us, and nothing we can do, that will merit salvation in any way.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And his grace must be irresistible because, as totally depraved sinners, we would resist it to the end if that were possible. It’s interesting to note that independent of the position of the modern Lutheran church, Martin Luther himself would have agreed on this point. In his famous work The Bondage of the Will, he wrote that “now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. … Thus it is that, if not all, yet some, indeed many, are saved; whereas, by the power of ‘free-will’ none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s very interesting. His final conclusion is exactly what we have been saying. If it were left up to the supposed freedom of our own unregenerate will to accept God’s offer of salvation, “none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish.”

Dr. Spencer: And although it would be anachronistic to speak of Martin Luther having anything to say directly about TULIP, since that acrostic came more than 70 years after his death, this quote does tie in one more of the five doctrines represented by the acrostic. Notice that he said that because our salvation is under the control of God’s will, he has “the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him.”

And, although I left it out of the quote the first time, he then cites John 10:28-29 where Jesus is speaking to the Jews about his followers and says that “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 marvelous comfort indeed. We are held in Christ’s hands, and in the Father’s hands.

Dr. Spencer: And it supports the fourth doctrine we want to look at from the TULIP acrostic; namely, the perseverance of the saints.

Marc Roby: Although, as has been pointed out by many, a better name for the doctrine might be the preservation of the saints since our confidence is really in God’s sovereign power, not our ability to persevere.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. All of God’s chosen people will persevere, but only because he enables them to do so. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, as we read in Philippians 1:4-6, that “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Marc Roby: And when Paul refers to the “day of Christ Jesus” he is, of course, referring to Christ’s second coming, which he wrote about in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, where we read, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is the glorious hope that all true believers have. God will complete the work he has begun in each one of us and we will be given a glorious body like that of the resurrected Christ we are told in Philippians 3:21. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is also supported by Romans 8:30, which we have looked at a number of times. It says that those God “predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” No one who is predestined by God for salvation is able to finally and utterly fall away. So, although true Christians can certainly backslide and fall into serious sin, they will always be brought to true repentance.

Marc Roby: That is a great comfort. Paul also wrote, in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, that Jesus Christ “will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

Dr. Spencer: And Paul also said, in his benediction to the church in Thessalonica, as we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

The message in all of these verses is consistent. God is faithful and as the sovereign Lord over all creation, he will save those whom he has chosen to save. Not one of them will be lost.

Marc Roby: This does not mean, however, that everyone who professes to be a Christian will ultimately be saved.

Dr. Spencer: Not at all. That would contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:21, where he tells us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Marc Roby: That verse should make everyone who claims to be a Christian shudder. As Paul commands us in Philippians 2:12, we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we should. We can have assurance of faith, as we will discuss later, but that is not incompatible with a careful, honest and even fearful, self-evaluation. Our confidence is based on God’s truthfulness, power and faithfulness, not on ours. He alone is unchangeable and cannot lie or be deceived. But, at the same time, we can never be presumptuous in believing that we are among God’s elect. The biblical doctrines of unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints should never, ever be used in a presumptuous way. If we have been born again, we will live in a way that makes that new birth evident. If we don’t, we have no basis for personal assurance.

Marc Roby: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us to “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important principle. We must examine our own fruit. It is easy to say “I repent”, but true repentance always includes turning away from the sin. We are told in Acts 26:20 that the apostle Paul, in speaking before King Agrippa, said, “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”

Marc Roby: And, when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist, we read in Matthew 3:7-8 that he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Dr. Spencer: And, most famously of course, in James Chapter Two we have the discourse about faith without works. James asks a serious question in Verse 14, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” And he then goes on to explain that a faith without deeds, in other words, without proof of a changed heart, will not save anyone.

In fact, he points out that even the demons have an intellectual faith, but the result is that they shudder in abject fear.

Marc Roby: True saving faith is more than just knowing and agreeing with the facts of the gospel. We must place our personal trust in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. And we will talk about that more later, but I think we have said all that we need to for now about the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

Marc Roby: And with that we have completed four of the five doctrines represented by the acrostic TULIP. We’ve discussed total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. So that only leaves the doctrine of limited atonement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is the only one left. But we are nearly out of time for today, so I think we had better stop. And this podcast will be released on December 26th, the day after Christmas. So, before we sign off, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of our listeners a blessed Christmas and a victorious new year in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Marc Roby: I join you in that and I will also 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] e.g., see R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 143

[3] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. 10, Par. 1

[4] C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg 697

[5] Sproul, op. cit., pg. 128

[6] M. Luther, The Bondage of the Will, Trans. By J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnson, Fleming H. Revell Comp., 1957, pg. 314

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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 time we finished discussing the doctrine of unconditional election, which says that God chooses whom he will save based on his own good pleasure and not any merit in us. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I would like to take some time to examine how we, as believers, should respond to the biblical doctrine of God’s unconditional election. We know how an unbeliever will respond; he will cry out that it isn’t fair. But as we’ve indicated, we all deserve God’s wrath. It would be perfectly fair for God to condemn us all. The amazing thing is that he chooses to save anyone. And so, the question remains, how should a believer respond to this doctrine?

Marc Roby: Well, it seems obvious that we should respond with great thanksgiving and praise!

Dr. Spencer: And, I would add, all the more so because God’s election is not conditioned on anything we have done or will do or, in fact, anything we can do. Once we realize that our new birth is a free gift from God, totally undeserved – in fact, given in spite of the fact we deserve condemnation – then we should be filled to overflowing with thanksgiving and praise.

Marc Roby: And that makes me think of the phrase in Ephesians where Paul speaks about the praise of God’s glorious grace. We read in Ephesians 1:4-6 that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”[1]

Dr. Spencer: And Paul repeats the same idea just a few verses later. We read in Ephesians 1:11-12, “In him 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, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

The ultimate purpose of creation is the manifestation of God’s glory and the saving of his people is a marvelous part of this work and a great contributor to that glory.

Marc Roby: And it is also an incomprehensibly great blessing for us who are saved!

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is certainly true. And the doctrine of unconditional election is also a great comfort to believers. In Romans 8:28-30 the apostle Paul wrote, “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. 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. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Marc Roby: That is comforting. Paul writes in the past tense even though our glorification is still in the future. He is letting us know that it is absolutely certain.

Dr. Spencer: And the first verse of this passage, Verse 28, where Paul wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”, should provide tremendous comfort for all of God’s children.

Let me quote the theologian Wayne Grudem. He wrote the following about these verses; “If Paul looks into the distant past before the creation of the world, he sees that God foreknew and predestined his people to be conformed to the image of Christ. If he looks at the recent past he finds that God called and justified his people whom he had predestined. And if he then looks toward the future when Christ returns, he sees that God has determined to give perfect, glorified bodies to those who believe in Christ. From eternity to eternity God has acted with the good of his people in mind. But if God has always acted for our good and will in the future act for our good, Paul reasons, then will he not also in our present circumstances work every circumstance together for our good as well?”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful conclusion, and a great comfort. But the apostle Paul goes on in that chapter to say even more about the comfort this provides to us.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, he most certainly does. In fact, he begins right way by asking the question we are dealing with now, in Romans 8:31 we read, “What, then, shall we say in response to this?” In other words, given God’s amazing plan of salvation and the certainty we have that all whom he has predestined for salvation will be called, justified and ultimately glorified, how should we respond? And he begins his answer by asking a rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Marc Roby: And the obvious answer to that question is that no one can successfully oppose us. And then Paul goes on to draw another wonderful and comforting conclusion in Verse 32. He writes, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a great and logical deduction. In God’s unconditional election he chose us to be saved. But that salvation, while free to us, was unbelievably costly to God. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, had to become a man and die for us. And, as Paul correctly reasons, if God didn’t spare his own Son, we can be confident that he will give us everything we truly need for life and godliness. God never leaves work unfinished.

And so Paul goes on at the end of Romans 8 to ask some more rhetorical questions and to conclude that we who are in Christ are more than conquerors and that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Marc Roby: And we need that comfort given the trials and tribulations that come with this life in a fallen world.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. I don’t want to go off track too far from discussing soteriology, but it is obvious to anyone who looks at this life honestly that we have many troubles. God does not promise his children a trouble-free life. Quite the opposite. We read in John 16:33 that Jesus himself told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And that is why we who are in Christ are promised that we will overcome the world as well.

In his commentary on this passage at the end of Romans Chapter 8, the Rev. P.G. Mathew notes that Paul lists seventeen enemies that Christians face; hardship, persecution, famine, danger, death and so on. But, as Paul wrote in Romans 8:37, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Rev. Mathew notes that “Troubles make us trust only in Christ. We hope not in this world but in the world to come. Sufferings for Christ’s sake cause the things of this world to grow strangely dim. These sufferings focus our spiritual eyes on Jesus.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is great encouragement. As God’s children we know that even the troubles and pain we go through in this life have a good purpose.

Dr. Spencer: And it will all be used by God to redound to his greater glory. But there is one more thing I want to say about how we should respond to the doctrine of unconditional election.

Marc Roby: Alright, what is that?

Dr. Spencer: It should be a great encouragement to us to share our faith.

Marc Roby: You usually hear people say that this doctrine discourages evangelism. So I think you need to explain that comment.

Dr. Spencer: It’s actually quite simple. If everyone has the power to either accept or reject the gospel message, then I can easily be afraid that my evangelism will fail to bear fruit. And, not only that, but it may be that my inept presentation is the reason someone doesn’t put his faith in Christ. Just think about how terrible that would be to have to live with.

Marc Roby: I’d rather not. I don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s eternal damnation.

Dr. Spencer: Nor do I. But the doctrine of unconditional election gives me confidence to tell others about Christ. My witnessing absolutely matters, God has ordained the means as well as the end. But at the end of day, I can be absolutely confident that all those whom God has chosen will, in fact, come to true saving faith. We are the means, but any success we have is not based on our own efforts, it is based on God’s eternal election.

Marc Roby: I see your point. And it sounds like we are done discussing the Christian’s proper response to the doctrine of unconditional election. Before we move on, perhaps I should briefly summarize the points we’ve made so far with respect to soteriology.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a good idea, so please proceed.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have shown that man’s greatest need, in fact his only real need, is for salvation, because every human being will, after this short life, spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Secondly, we have shown that because all men are sinners and enemies of God, they will not and, indeed, cannot, accept his offer of salvation until and unless God causes them to be born again. Thirdly, we have shown that God sovereignly chooses whom he will save, not based on anything in them, or anything he foresees they will do, but solely based on his own free sovereign will.

Dr. Spencer: And if we go back to the acrostic TULIP, which to remind everyone stands for the biblical doctrines of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints, we have now covered the first two of these; Total depravity and Unconditional election. But rather than cover them in the order they appear in the acrostic, I now want to move on to examine Irresistible grace.

Marc Roby: Which we have briefly mentioned before. It is the doctrine that says that we cannot resist God’s saving grace. In other words, if he causes us to be born again, we will necessarily respond in repentance and faith.

Dr. Spencer: That is the doctrine. When Paul dealt with the objection to the biblical doctrine of unconditional election, he wrote in Romans 9:19, as we read last time, “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” The expected answer is, of course, that no one can resist God’s sovereign will. So, this verse expresses the idea of the irresistible nature of God’s efficacious call.

We also see irresistible grace in the verse we read earlier today, Romans 8:30, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” It is clear that Paul is spelling out an unbreakable chain of events. If God has predestined us for salvation, he will call us. And if he calls us, we will be justified and glorified.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Paul is not listing every step in the process here. As I’m sure we will discuss in more detail later, justification, for example, is based on conversion, in other words on our having repented of our sins and placed our faith in Jesus Christ. And our repenting and believing can only occur if we have been born again, or regenerated. So it is evident from these verses that God’s call is effectual in bringing about our regeneration.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. Jesus gave us a great illustration of God’s effectual call when he called Lazarus forth from the tomb. Lazarus had been dead for several days and yet, when Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out!” He came out of the tomb still wrapped in the grave clothes.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a great illustration.

Dr. Spencer: This doctrine of irresistible grace is not something new with the Protestant Reformation either. It goes all the way back to St. Augustine. Let me quote the 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge; “Augustine, holding as he did that man since the fall is in a state of spiritual death, utterly disabled and opposite to all good, taught that his restoration to spiritual life was an act of God’s almighty power; and being an act of omnipotence was instantaneous, immediate, and irresistible.”[3]

Marc Roby: That certainly makes sense. As we have said before, dead people don’t make themselves come alive.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, one of the arguments Hodge uses to support this doctrine, which is a very strong argument I might add, is that the metaphors used in the Scriptures are important. He wrote that “As the blind could not open their own eyes, or the deaf unstop their own ears, or the dead quicken themselves in their graves; as they could not prepare themselves for restoration, or cooperate in effecting it, so also with the blind, the deaf, and the dead in sin. The cure in both cases must be supernatural.”[4]

Marc Roby: And we see all of these metaphors in the Bible. For example, in John 12:37-40, the apostle speaks about the unbelief of some of the people and says, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.’”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very common metaphor. In fact John is quoting from Isaiah 6:10 where God commands the prophet to “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Marc Roby: It is a paradoxical truth that the same gospel message brings life to some and hardens others against it.

Dr. Spencer: And it is precisely because of sinful man’s depraved condition. I’m sure some of our listeners have heard the analogy that the same sunlight which softens wax also hardens clay. The different responses to the sun’s heat are caused by the inherent differences in the materials.

Paul speaks about this in his second letter to the Corinthian church. In 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 he speaks about the different responses people have to the gospel. And he wrote, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” Note that we are to God always the aroma of Christ. There is no ambiguity or difference in the message itself. But this one message is the smell of death to those who will not, and indeed cannot accept it because of their sinful natures. While to those who have been born again it is the fragrance of life.

Marc Roby: And Hodge also spoke about the metaphor of being dead. He said that the dead cannot “quicken themselves”, which is an old-fashioned way of saying bring themselves back to life. And we see the metaphor of death most famously in Ephesians 2:1 where Paul tells the Ephesian believers that “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins”, referring to their lives before they were regenerated.

Dr. Spencer: And he keeps the same metaphor going when he says in Verses 4-5, “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.”

Marc Roby: Well, I’m sure there is more to say about the doctrine of irresistible grace, but I think it will have to wait for our next session. Let me close by reminding our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our very best to answer.

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

[2] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 705

[3] C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, vol II, pg. 712

[4] Ibid, pg. 692

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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 week we discussed a number of passages in the New Testament to make the case that if we have been born again, we will obey Jesus Christ our King. True Christians do walk in the obedience of faith. How would you like to proceed with this topic today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first I want to again note that we are not saying that a true Christian will obey perfectly. We all sin. But all true Christians have been born again, which is a very serious statement. We’ve noted several times that Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” [1]

We need to realize how radical that statement is. We are new creations. It is inconceivable that the new creation will behave exactly the same way as the old one did. Paul also wrote, in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Now we are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, who perfectly obeyed the Father.

Marc Roby: That is an incredible truth to sit and meditate on for a while. But this radical transformation takes time, it doesn’t occur overnight.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it certainly does take time. In fact, it takes more than a lifetime. We will not be perfected in this life. We only reach perfection when we die. Nevertheless, there is also an instantaneous change that occurs when we are born again. The fact that that change is not total doesn’t negate the fact that it is radical, meaning that it affects every aspect of our being. We are, as Paul wrote, new creations, even though we also still have the old sinful nature hanging around to trip us up, which the New Testament frequently refers to as the “flesh” in the Greek.

Marc Roby: I’m sad to say that I’m very familiar with the flesh. We have to wage war against it every single day as Paul wrote in Colossians 3.

Dr. Spencer: And you’re not alone. Every Christian has to fight the flesh every single day. And Colossians 3 is a great chapter. I think it will be well worth our while to take a look at an extended section of it. The first four verses speak about what theologians call our union with Christ.

Marc Roby: Which is a glorious topic indeed. Let me read Colossians 3:1-4, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Dr. Spencer: Isn’t that wonderful? We are not to be focused on this life because this earth is not our eternal home. We are to have our hearts and minds set on things above. In other words, on heaven. And we are reminded that Christ is there, seated at the right hand of God. He is seated because his work of redemption is finished. And Paul speaks about our union with Christ in this passage. He says that we died, which is very strong metaphorical language, meaning that our old sinful nature no longer rules. He is even more explicit about this in his letter to the Romans.

In Romans 6:5-7 we read; “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.” And it is this union with Christ that Paul is speaking about in Colossians 3:3 when he says that “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Marc Roby: And as a result of this union, Paul draws the amazing conclusion I read a moment ago in Colossians 3:4, that “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a marvelous conclusion. And notice that Paul started, in Colossians 3:1, by saying that we have been raised with Christ even though we are still here on earth, in this body, with sin still present. He also wrote in Romans 6:2-4 that “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore 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.”

Christian baptism is a wonderful symbolic representation of our union with Christ. When we are immersed in the water the symbolism is that of dying with Christ. And, of course, his death paid the penalty that we owed because of our sins. And then, when we are raised up out of the water it symbolizes our union with Christ in his resurrection. And note carefully what Paul wrote. He wrote that “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Marc Roby: And so again we see this idea of a new life. New creations live new lives. The fact that there will be significant change in behavior is inescapable.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And so, getting back to the passage in Colossians 3, the next six verses talk about the process that all Christians are called to go through in this life. We are to fight against our old sinful nature and to be transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Marc Roby: Yes, let me read those six verses. In Colossians 3:5-10 we are told, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 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.”

Dr. Spencer: I love that passage. It illustrates both the reality of the radical change that has already occurred and the need for further change. We are to put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature, and we are to rid ourselves of such things; which clearly indicates we are not yet perfect. There is still work we need to do. But then we are also told that we have taken off our old self and have put on the new self, which speaks about something that is already accomplished. There has been a significant change already – that change was new birth.

Marc Roby: And we have noted before that John Murray calls the significant change that comes with new birth definitive sanctification, while the change that continues throughout the Christian life, he calls progressive sanctification.[2]

Dr. Spencer: I like that way of describing it a lot. But whether we use Murray’s terminology or not, it is an undeniable truth that the New Testament speaks of our sanctification in three tenses; past, present and future. We have been sanctified, which refers to the real, radical change that occurs when we are born again, or regenerated. We are also being sanctified, which refers to the continuing process of transformation that every true Christian goes through. And we will be sanctified, which refers to the fact that we will be perfected by God when we die.

Marc Roby: What a wonderful thing that is to look forward to.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And now I’d like to wrap up this part of le the discussion by going back to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. In Session 119 we looked at Question 26, which asks, “How does Christ execute the office of a King?”

Marc Roby: And the answer is, “Christ executes the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.”

Dr. Spencer: And we have now seen every part of that answer. Christ subdues us to himself by sending the Holy Spirit to regenerate us and enable us to repent, believe and thereby be united to Christ by faith. Then, because we are united to Christ, we are justified in God’s sight. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see our sin, he sees the perfect righteousness of our representative, Jesus Christ. This is the double imputation we’ve spoken of before. Our sins are put onto Christ – he bore them on the cross and paid the penalty we owed. And his perfect righteousness is imputed to us, which means it is counted as ours. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: What an amazing transaction! I give Christ my guilt and condemnation and in return he gives me his unimpeachable righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: But that isn’t all that God does, there is even more. We are also brought into the kingdom of God and he begins ruling and defending us. And at the end of the answer in the Catechism we see that through the process of sanctification Jesus our King conquers all our enemies. This includes our sin, which is our greatest enemy. In addition, although we haven’t spent any time discussing this yet, he also conquers the world and Satan, our other two enemies.

Marc Roby: That is wonderful news. But, even though this victory is already won in a sense, there is still work that we need to do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. The victory is certain, but it is not yet completely evident in our lives. We have to fight our battles every day as we noted earlier. And the great news for a Christian is that we do not have to fight these battles in our own strength. In fact, if we try to fight them in our own strength, we are guaranteed to fail.

Marc Roby: The apostle Peter learned the hard way that he couldn’t stand in his own strength. In Matthew 26:35 we read that he declared to Jesus, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And then, on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great example not only for showing how we will fail if we try to do things in our own strength, but also for showing how God guarantees the ultimate victory of his people. We are told more about this episode in Luke 22:31-32 where we read that Christ told Peter, “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.”

Notice first of all that Satan had to ask permission to tempt Peter. Satan is far more powerful than we are, but he is a creature and is completely under God’s control. God allows him a great deal of freedom to attack the church at this time, but Satan can never go further than God allows.

Marc Roby: Well, that certainly is part of what the Catechism is referring to when it says Christ restrains and conquers our enemies. Satan is already defeated and is severely restrained by God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. We also see however in that passage, Christ praying for Peter, and we are told in Hebrews 7:24-25 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.” Jesus is in heaven right now interceding for his people. This is part of his functioning as our great high Priest. And his intercession is always effectual, which is why he said to Peter, “when you have turned back”, not “if you turn back”. He knew that even though Peter would fail temporarily, his faith would not be utterly destroyed.

Marc Roby: That is a great comfort to us all. It is amazing to think that Jesus Christ cares about me and is interceding on my behalf even now.

Dr. Spencer: It is amazing, but true. That is why Paul could write to the Christians in Philippi that he was confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”, as we read in Philippians 1:6. God will never fail to accomplish his purposes. And he has purposed to save his people. Therefore, if we have been born again and Christ is our King, we are eternally secure.

As I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, we have three enemies – our own sinful natures, or flesh, Satan, and the world. The example of Peter shows that Satan will be defeated.

Marc Roby: And we also have the promise of our Lord’s brother, James. He wrote in James 4:7 that if we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil, he will flee from us.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great promise. We also know that God will always provide a way for us to overcome our own sin. There is no temptation that a true Christian cannot resist. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Marc Roby: That is, again, a great comfort. We are enabled by God to stand up under any and every temptation.

Dr. Spencer: And we are also given victory over our third enemy, the world. We read in 1 John 5:3-4, “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting passage. It again mixes a past tense and a present tense. It says that this is the victory that has overcome the world – in other words, it is an accomplished fact. And yet it also says that everyone born of God overcomes the world, which is speaking about our continuing need to walk in holiness and fight the daily battle.

Dr. Spencer: And notice that overcoming the world is linked with obeying God’s commands, which are not burdensome to someone who has been born again. If we have been born again, we are part of God’s family, we share in his nature, and so we delight in his commands. We desire to walk in his ways and please him. And yet, we still have our old sinful natures hanging around to drag us down. We are told in Galatians 5:17 that “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” The Spirit in this verse is capitalized, indicating that it is referring to the Holy Spirit, who dwells in every true believer.

In his commentary of 1 John, the Rev. P.G. Mathew notes that this internal opposition, which every believer experiences, “is proof that we have been born of God … If we are children of God, there will be deep conflict within us until the day we die. We are like live fish who swim upstream against the cultural flow. It is the dead who float with the current.”[3]

Marc Roby: That’s a great illustration. The world, our flesh and the devil are all trying to drag us down, but if we are alive in Christ we will fight upstream, endeavoring to live obedient lives for the glory of God.

Dr. Spencer: And the Holy Spirit is our powerful aid as we do so. Jesus himself was filled with the Holy Spirit without limit we are told in John 3:34 and was thereby enabled to do all the work God had called him to do in his human nature. We have that same Holy Spirit available to us as Christians. All we have to do is ask. Jesus told us in Luke 11:13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Marc Roby: We should all ask for the Holy Spirit so that we can lead lives that are pleasing in God’s sight, walking in the obedience of faith.

Dr. Spencer: We should. And with that I think we have completed all that I wanted to say about Christ as our King.

Marc Roby: And so this is a perfect place to finish for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we would 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 Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, Chap. 21

[3] P.G. Mathew, The Normal Church Life, OM Books, 2006, pg. 248

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, last time we discussed the doctrine of total depravity, which says that every aspect of our being is affected by sin. And, as a result, man is not able to repent and believe in Christ until and unless God regenerates him, that is, causes him to be born again. At the end of the session, I asked the question that many people have raised; namely, “If man is utterly incapable of obeying God’s command to repent and believe, how then can it be fair for God to condemn an unbeliever for not doing so?” How would you answer that question?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let me begin by giving God’s answer to the question, and then we can discuss it further. Paul deals with this question in Chapter 9 of the book of Romans. He begins by citing Old Testament passages that present the doctrine of election; in other words, that God sovereignly and unconditionally chooses whom to save.

Marc Roby: Now, by calling this election unconditional, you mean that it is not based on anything man does.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. This doctrine is represented by the letter ‘U’ in the acrostic TULIP. But, getting back to our passage, in Romans 9:18 Paul draws a conclusion from these Old Testament verses and writes, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” [1]

And then, in Verse 19, he anticipates essentially the same question you asked in response to this conclusion, he says, “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” And finally, in Verse 20 we read his answer, which is really God’s answer since Paul wrote as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. And we read, “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?”’”

Marc Roby: I must say that God’s answer would seem to argue in favor of not discussing this further. He asserts his sovereignty and basically says we are not in a position to ask the question.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. In fact, John Murray describes this answer as being an “appeal to the reverential silence which the majesty of God demands of us.”[2] We don’t want to probe beyond our proper limits. There is mystery in the doctrine of election that goes beyond what we are able to understand, and we need to be careful or we can get into territory that man should avoid all together, or risk being impudent.

Marc Roby: Yes, we certainly want to avoid that. We should have proper respect and reverence for God at all times and keep the Creator/creature distinction in mind.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And yet, there is more that we can properly and biblically say about this question. And it is a question that is deeply troubling to many, which is why the apostle Paul anticipates it, and then he himself goes on to say a little more. But we must pay careful attention to the fact that God is putting us in our place first. He is reminding us that we have no business questioning his goodness.

Marc Roby: And that reminds me of Job.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it certainly does. In his excellent commentary on the book of Romans, P.G. Mathew noted that “Job had many questions for God. But when God questioned him. Job closed his mouth.”[3] And in Job 42:3-6 we read that Job replied to God, “You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Marc Roby: That is the only response possible if we truly see God and ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: And we must not miss the point of Paul’s rhetorical question in Romans 9:20, “who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” We have no right to question God about how he governs his creation. If he chooses to give us an explanation, that is entirely by grace. He doesn’t owe us an answer. But God did graciously give us some more information about his purposes in election. Just as God dealt with Job’s questions by questioning him, so Paul responds to this question about God’s fairness by asking questions in return. We just dealt with the first of them, “who are you, O man?”, which points out that we have no right to talk back to God. And the second was also in Verse 20, “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”

Marc Roby: And the answer is, again, “No! The creature shall not say to the Creator, “Why did you make me like this?” In context, that question clearly has an accusatory tone. It is saying, in essence, that God should have made me some other way.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. Paul is pointing out how inappropriate it is for us to question God and he means to humble and silence us. And he goes on, in Verse 21, to ask, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”

Marc Roby: The same metaphor about a potter and the clay is used in the Old Testament as well. In Isaiah 45:9 we read, “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’”

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the same idea. These three questions were meant to put us in our place. Let me quote from P.G. Mathew’s commentary again. He wrote, “Mind your place! You are down here; God is up there. God is all-transcendent. God is our Creator; we are his creatures, and we must never forget the Creator/creature distinction. We exist and consist in him. So think correctly. Pride goes before a fall. God is not our equal. No man has a right to bring God to trial. But God has every right to bring us to trial and cast us into hell.”[4]

Marc Roby: Nothing could be more obvious than the fact that God is not our equal. So, it is only reasonable that we keep that fact in mind at all times.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that fact causes us to face reality. We have no business questioning the fairness of God. But, in a very real sense, anyone who goes to hell chooses to go to hell.

Marc Roby: Now how can you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we noted in Session 104 that eternal death, or hell, includes eternal separation from the blessings, or presence, of God. But let me quote from P.G. Mathew again. He says, “Listen to the arguments of the great theologian Jonathan Edwards: ‘I. That if God should for ever cast you off, it would be agreeable to your treatment of him. … II. If you should forever be cast off by God, it would be agreeable to your treatment of Jesus Christ. … III. If God should for ever cast you off and destroy you, it would be agreeable to your treatment of others. … IV. If God should eternally cast you off, it would be agreeable to your own behavior towards yourself.”[5] And Mathew adds a fifth point, “If God should eternally cast you off, it would be agreeable to your treatment of the Holy Spirit.”

Marc Roby: That is very good. If people reject the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, they should not be surprised when God rejects them.

Dr. Spencer: Well, in fact, that is what their actions show they really want. And we never treat others the way we should either, which shows our contempt for God since they are also made in his image. And when he speaks about our treatment of ourselves, he is reminding us that we don’t have the right to abuse our own bodies by using drugs, or over eating, or sexual immorality or any of a number of ways in which people do so. We don’t belong to ourselves. We belong to God; he made us.

Marc Roby: That’s an excellent point.

Dr. Spencer: And the bottom line is that we are all sinful, rebellious creatures. God does not treat anyone unjustly; he treats every individual with either perfect justice or mercy.

Marc Roby: And we should not want to be treated with justice if we have any inkling at all of the many ways in which we have violated God’s just laws and offended his holy character.

Dr. Spencer: No, any rational person will desire mercy. But now, with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the final question Paul asks in Romans 9. In Verses 22-24 he wrote, “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”

Marc Roby: That is a very difficult passage. Not difficult to understand, but difficult for people to accept.

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right about that. Paul tells us that God has prepared some people for destruction for the purpose of manifesting his power and wrath and also to make the riches of his glory manifest to the objects of his mercy, in other words, to those whom he chose to save.

We have said a number of times that the Bible clearly teaches that God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory. And that includes showing his holiness and justice as well as his mercy and love. People may not like that, but it is the truth.

Marc Roby: But, of course, an unbeliever is not going to accept that answer.

Dr. Spencer: No, I’m quite sure they won’t. I know I didn’t. This question of God’s fairness was very disturbing to me before God graciously granted me a new heart. And, as we discussed last time, that is what new birth is. It is God granting an individual a new heart. Or you could say a new spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

But whatever terminology you use, the point is that God changes our fundamental nature, which affects every aspect of our being. He regenerates us. He gives us a new mind, a new will, a new set of affections. We are not made perfect, but we are changed in the very core of our being. And that change is just as pervasive as the depravity it begins to destroy.

Marc Roby: Why do you say that it “begins” to destroy our depravity?

Dr. Spencer: Well, in his infinite wisdom, God has chosen to conform his people to the image of Christ through a process. The process begins with new birth, which issues forth in repentance and faith, which then result in justification.

But repentance and faith are not the only fruit that come from new birth. It also manifests itself in every aspect of our behavior. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And yet, the change is not complete, we are not yet perfect.

Marc Roby: Yes, that fact is abundantly obvious when we look at ourselves and others.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is obvious, yes. If we have been born again and have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, then we are justified in God’s sight, and yet we are still sinners as well. Theologians have a Latin phrase they use for this condition.

Marc Roby: Well of course they do, they’re almost as bad as medical doctors in liking Latin.

Dr. Spencer: I suppose that’s true. In any event, Martin Luther stated that believers are simul justus et peccator, which means simultaneously just and sinner.[6] We are justified in God’s sight by our union with Christ as we discussed last session. And yet, we are still sinners. When God regenerates a person, he changes every aspect of the person’s being. The effects of regeneration are just as pervasive as the sinful nature. But, just as our sinful nature did not make us as bad as we could possibly be, so regeneration does not make us as good as we can possibly be, it does not perfect us. It does not remove sin completely. It simply begins the process. We are simultaneously just and sinner.

Marc Roby: Which expresses the idea that a Christian is a mixture. We have a desire and an ability to obey God, but we still have sin residing in us as well. And there is a war going on between our old and new natures.

Dr. Spencer: And that is exactly what the Bible teaches us. Let’s take a brief look at one passage that deals with this fact. In Colossians 3:5-10 Paul commands us, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 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: That passage has an interesting mix of statements in the past tense, like “you have taken off your old self”, and commands in the present tense, like “Put to death … whatever belongs to your earthly nature”.

Dr. Spencer: And that is why it is a great illustration of the inner conflict that exists in every true believer. If we have been born again, there is a very real and pervasive change that has occurred. John Murray calls this change, which is produced in our nature by regeneration, definitive sanctification.[7]

Marc Roby: Which is what the Bible is referring to when it speaks in the past tense about believers having been sanctified. For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:11 Paul told the believers in Corinth, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly, it is also what is being referred to in the passage we are looking at in Colossians when it says that we “used to walk in these ways” and that we “have taken off [our] old self”. But, in addition to this definitive sanctification, there is also progressive sanctification, which is indicated, for example, by the command to “Put to death … whatever belongs to your earthly nature”. We still have work to do.

When we are born again there is a dramatic and pervasive change in our nature, but it isn’t complete. God has ordained that we struggle against sin, walking in faith, until he calls us home. At that time he will perfect our spirits as we are told in Hebrews 12:23.

Marc Roby: Now that is something to look forward to!

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. But let’s get back to the point you made that an unbeliever is not going to accept the answer given in Romans 9. I have a couple of things to say about that. First, whether or not an unbeliever will accept the truth has no bearing on whether it is the truth. Remember, an unbeliever also won’t accept the most basic truth that God exists and has revealed himself in his Word.

Marc Roby: What is the second thing you wanted to say about it?

Dr. Spencer: That there is no reason to really get into this question with an unbeliever unless he or she brings it up. While it is true that an unbeliever is totally depraved, dead in trespasses and sins, and cannot repent and believe unless God first regenerates him. It is equally true, as Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is what we should be saying to unbelievers. Share the gospel. Answer their questions to the best of your ability. Pray for their salvation. But don’t worry about how to reconcile God’s sovereign election with their personal liberty. That question doesn’t affect what they must do to be saved. Never once in the New Testament do we see someone asking “What must I do to be saved?” and then being told to be born again. They are told to repent and believe.

Marc Roby: I think that is good advice for evangelism. And I personally find God’s sovereign election to be a very comforting doctrine. I must do my job to evangelize, but no one is going to perish because I didn’t do my job well enough. If God has chosen someone for salvation, then they are going to be saved.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, that is a great encouragement. It is our business to live for God’s glory and to share his glorious gospel. It is God’s business to save sinners.

Marc Roby: And with that I think 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’ll 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] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997, Vol. II, pg. 31

[3] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 62

[4] Ibid, pg. 65

[5] Ibid, pp 66-67

[6] R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, Baker Books, 1995, pg. 102

[7] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, Chap. 21

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. We ended last time in the middle of discussing the view called trichotomy, which means that man is composed of three distinct parts; a body, soul and spirit. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed with that discussion?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s take a look at another point made by trichotomists, which is summarized well by James Boice in his Foundations of the Christian Faith. He writes that “It is possible, though not certain, that in the Pauline writings the spirit of a man or woman is considered as being lost or dead as a result of the Fall and as being restored in those who are regenerated.”[1]

Marc Roby: Well, I’m not sure that I see a problem with that statement. Paul certainly spoke about people being dead in their sins and being raised to life by faith in Christ. For example, in Colossians 2:13 he wrote that “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.” [2]

Dr. Spencer: He does use that imagery quite often. In the verse you just read, it is clear that when Paul said “you were dead in your sins” he did not mean that you had ceased to exist. You were walking, talking, making decisions and so on. But you were dead toward God.

Marc Roby: And we often refer to that as being spiritually dead.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. For example, when Adam and Eve sinned, they immediately died in three different senses of the word. First, they immediately died spiritually, meaning that they lost communion with God. Second, they immediately became subject to physical death; meaning they started to age and their ultimate physical death was certain. Third, they also became subject to God’s wrath, which, had God not later saved them, would have led to eternal death, in other words, eternal hell.

When we speak of an unbeliever being spiritually dead, we are using language that is consistent with trichotomy. If the spirit is only responsible for our relationship with God, and there is a separate part of us called the soul that is responsible for our reason, moral nature and will, then it could be true that our spirit is actually dead even when we are still alive.

Marc Roby: I think I see the problem now. If, as we have labored to show, dichotomy is the proper biblical position, then it certainly doesn’t make sense to speak of someone’s spirit being dead and his soul being alive at the same time since the words spirit and soul both refer to the immaterial part of man, which is not only responsible for his capacity to worship and have fellowship with God, but also for his reason, moral nature and will. If the spirit were dead according to that definition of the spirit, then we would be physically and spiritually dead; in other words, we would cease to exist. As we have argued, the body cannot live without the spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I think another point of confusion has to do with the term, “death.” People often tend to think of death as being the equivalent of “ceasing to exist.” Even truly born-again Christians can fall into that trap. But that idea is unbiblical. It is clear that everybody’s spirit continues to exist eternally after their bodies have died as we have noted before. In fact, as Wayne Grudem defines it, “Death is a temporary cessation of bodily life and a separation of the soul from the body.”[3]

Marc Roby: I like that definition. In fact, the key idea is separation in each of the categories of death you mentioned a moment ago. Spiritual death means that we, body and soul, are separated from God’s blessing because of our sin. Physical death means that our soul and body are temporarily separated. And eternal death means that sinners, in both body and soul, are forever separated from God’s blessing. Nobody ever actually ceases to exist, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, you have never met a mere mortal.[4]

Dr. Spencer: And eternal death is even worse that being separated from God’s blessings, sinners in hell are actively under his wrath, which I find too terrible to even contemplate. Spiritually dead people are alienated from God and totally depraved in their souls. To say they are dead doesn’t mean that they don’t have a spirit or that their spirit no longer exists. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:21 that we were once alienated from God and were enemies in our minds because of our evil behavior. That is what is meant by saying that someone is spiritually dead; they are alienated from God and are his enemy in their mind.

Marc Roby: But thanks be to God, he saves his people by applying the redemption accomplished by Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And he does that by regenerating sinners by the power of the Holy Spirit. We’ll talk a lot more about this later, but for now it will suffice to say that regeneration is a work of God whereby he gives us a new heart and a new spirit as he promised in Ezekiel 36:26. In other words, he makes us spiritually alive.

Marc Roby: Not only so, but the born-again person is united to Christ by faith; he is no longer separated from God, but has been brought into God’s very family! In John 10:10 Jesus told us that he came so that we “may have life, and have it to the full.” This is life that will transcend the grave and continue with God forever.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, your mentioning the grave reminds me of what Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” This wonderful promise would not make sense unless we understand life and death biblically. When Jesus says that Christians shall live, even though they die, he means that we will remain reconciled to God, under his blessing, even in the hour of our physical death. Though our spirit will leave our body at the moment of death, that spirit shall be perfected and immediately be with the Lord in heaven.

Marc Roby: And when Jesus said that we shall never die, he meant that we shall never experience eternal death – separated from God’s blessing and experiencing only his curse in hell. Instead, we shall be with God in heaven, enjoying his presence and blessing forever.

Dr. Spencer: What a glorious promise that is! Now we have drifted off topic and although the digression was useful since it clarified what the Bible means when it speaks about death, I think its time to get back to talking about trichotomy. We were discussing the trichotomist idea that an unbeliever’s spirit is dead, but his soul is alive. Boice had said this idea was a possible interpretation from Paul’s writings.

But Paul never stated that our spirit is dead before we are regenerated. He did write that we are dead, as in Colossians 2:13, the verse you read a few minutes ago. And another example is Ephesians 2:1-2, where we read, “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.”

Marc Roby: And, as we have discussed, to be “dead in your transgressions and sins” means to be separated from God, to be his enemy. It does not have to mean that your spirit is dead.

Dr. Spencer: And since Paul says that you use to live this way, if dichotomy is the right view, your spirit cannot be dead. This is precisely why Boice says that if Paul meant that our spirits were dead before they were regenerated, it would, in fact, be evidence for trichotomy. But, as we just saw, in both the verse you cited, Colossians 2:13 and the ones I cited, Ephesians 2:1-2, Paul does not say that our spirit or soul was dead, he says that we were dead, and he clearly means dead in terms of our relationship with God.

Marc Roby: Alright, but what about 1 Corinthians 2:12-14? Paul does speak about the spirit in those verses, so we should take a look at them.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we should look at them to be complete. In 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 we read, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: It is important to point out that in all but one instance in these verses the word spirit is capitalized in the NIV, which means that they interpret it as referring to the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. The one exception is when Paul wrote that “We have not received the spirit of the world”, which clearly can’t be the Holy Spirit.

Marc Roby: No, it can’t. And, praise God, Paul didn’t just say that we have not received the spirit of the world, he said that we have received “the Spirit who is from God”.

Dr. Spencer: And I think it is abundantly clear, and therefore doesn’t require any argument to support the interpretation, that “the Spirit who is from God” must refer to the Holy Spirit. Which is why the NIV capitalizes the word.

Marc Roby: That does seem fairly obvious.

Dr. Spencer: The next reference to the Spirit in those verses is when Paul says that we speak, “not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit”. Now I suppose it is possible that a trichotomist could interpret this as referring to our supposedly new spirits, and the assumption would then be that when we are born again, we receive a spirit that comes with knowledge, which can then be imparted to our soul. But I think that is reading an awful lot into the verse that isn’t stated and it is far more natural and reasonable to say this wisdom is taught to us by the Holy Spirit, which is, again, why the NIV capitalizes the word there.

Marc Roby: I certainly agree that is by far the more reasonable interpretation of what Paul meant.

Dr. Spencer: And now, finally, the last sentence in that passage says that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” When Paul refers to “the man without the Spirit”, it is virtually certain that he is speaking about someone who has not yet been regenerated. It could be, as trichotomy would say, that the man has no functional spirit. But I think it is far more likely that the NIV is correct in capitalizing the word Sprit here, meaning it is referring to the Holy Spirit, which believers receive when they are regenerated. To receive the Holy Spirit means to be influenced or controlled by him. This seems to be the far more natural reading in context.

Marc Roby: And the Bible clearly teaches us that believers have the Holy Spirit, for example, in Romans 8:9, Paul wrote, “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.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great verse to make this point. Therefore, I conclude that when we read in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God”, it most naturally fits with dichotomy. In the end, when all of the evidence we have discussed is considered, I have to conclude that trichotomy is wrong and that the biblical view of man is dichotomy.

Marc Roby: And yet, as you stated last time, this is not an essential doctrine. Christians are free to disagree about this point.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Christians are definitely free to believe dichotomy or trichotomy or even to simply say that they don’t know which is right. James Boice said that this “debate need not overly concern us”[5] and I think he was right about that, but with one caveat I’ll get into in a moment. He also said that “In this area the particular words used are less important than the truths they are meant to convey.”[6] He went on to say that if someone adheres to dichotomy, “they nevertheless recognize that there is something about man that sets him off from animals. That is all that the distinction between spirit and soul in the three-part system means.”[7] And by the “three-part system” he is, of course, referring to trichotomy.

Marc Roby: I’m not sure that all trichotomists would agree that this is all they mean, but there certainly is a sense in which Boice is correct in framing this as an argument about semantics. You mentioned a caveat in your agreeing that the debate need not overly concern us. What is that caveat?

Dr. Spencer: There is a danger inherent in trichotomy, depending on exactly what one takes that to mean.

Marc Roby: What is that danger?

Dr. Spencer: Well, if a person thinks of the soul as being the seat of our intellect and the spirit as being the seat of our ability to commune with and worship God, there is a very serious danger of thinking that the soul is corrupted by sin and is, therefore, less reliable than the spirit, which is thought to be more pure. This view can then lead to a very anti-intellectual, mystical type of Christianity, which is contrary to the Bible as Grudem points out.[8]

All through the Bible we are called to think carefully about God and our lives. Our faith must not be purely subjective. Biblical Christianity is based on objective truth, not our feelings.

Marc Roby: Yes, when you say that I immediately think of Romans 12:2, where the apostle Paul commands us, “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 the classic verse. But there are many others that speak about the importance of using our minds. This is true in both the Old and New Testaments. In Isaiah 1:18 we read, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” In other words, we are to listen to God’s word to understand his plan of salvation. He has a way of taking care of our sins and we must use our minds to understand it.

And then, as just one more New Testament example, in Acts 17:11 we read about the response of the people in Berea to the message preached by Paul and Silas, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Marc Roby: And Christ told us, in Mark 12:30 that we are to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Examining the Scriptures clearly requires the use of our minds and also assumes that the Scriptures are our ultimate standard for truth.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Christians are called to think carefully and to have the Bible be our ultimate standard, not our feelings or some mystical experience.

Marc Roby: Alright, so to begin to wrap-up our discussion of dichotomy and trichotomy, the whole question seems to hinge on how you define soul and spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s true. Grudem remarks, correctly, that “If we define ‘soul’ to mean ‘the intellect, emotions, and will,’ then we will have to conclude that at least the higher animals have a soul.”[9]

In our discussion so far, I have deliberately avoided giving a precise definition of the soul, or spirit. We did say, by quoting Charles Hodge, that “The essential attributes of a spirit are reason, conscience, and will.”[10] And we also noted that our souls live on after our physical bodies have died and so they in some way contain the essence of who we are, and we have recognized that the soul or spirit is the immaterial part of man.

Marc Roby: Well, we could simply put all of that together and say it is our working definition of soul or spirit.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. If we put it all together, we would define soul, or spirit, as the immaterial part of man, which includes the essence of who he is, and which lives on after his physical death, and has as essential attributes the faculties of reason, morality and free will.

Marc Roby: That seems like a reasonable working definition, and it looks like a good place to end for today. It’s hard to believe, but with this session we have completed two full years of this podcast.

Dr. Spencer: That is very hard to believe. And we really appreciate hearing from our listeners. So, even if you don’t have a specific question, we’d like to hear from you. You can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to respond.

[1] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 152

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

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 816

[4] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, Revised and expanded edition, Macmillan Pub. Co., 1980, on page 19 Lewis wrote, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

[5] James Boice, op. cit., pg. 151

[6] Ibid, pg. 152

[7] Ibid

[8] Wayne Grudem, op. cit., pg. 482

[9] Ibid, pp 480-481

[10] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, pg. 97

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