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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d appreciate hearing from you.

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

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 101

[3] Ibid, pg. 100

[4] Ibid, pg. 101

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

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

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

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

[9] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology.

This podcast will be released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, which is the day before Good Friday and three days before Easter, which is, of course, the day that Christians celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ from the dead. Dr. Spencer, I understand you have a special message for Easter, how does that fit with our study of anthropology?

Dr. Spencer: I think it that it fits perfectly as you’ll see. In fact, I was tremendously encouraged as I sat down to prepare this session because I hadn’t planned the timing out in advance, but God obviously had, which is a great example of his providence.

In our last session, we answered the question, “Where do we come from?” And in today’s session I want to answer the question “Where are we going?” You could view these questions as bookends for the human life. But the second one, “Where are we going?”, is the far more important one from our perspective.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say it is the far more important one?

Dr. Spencer: Because where I came from doesn’t change where I am now or what my life is like now. That doesn’t mean the answer to that question isn’t of great importance of course, it is. But the answer to the question of where I came from doesn’t change anything except, hopefully, my perspective on what is important. But the question of where I am going has eternal significance for me personally because we all have an eternal destiny, you, me and every one of our listeners included.

This life is short, but eternity is unimaginably long. So, where we are going is far more important to us personally than where we came from. We are told in Hebrews 9:27 that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,”[1]

Marc Roby: I see your point. The question is of ultimate and eternal significance. And, I might add, once we have entered that eternal destiny, it cannot be changed.

In the parable Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham, who is in heaven, is speaking to the rich man, who is in hell, and we read in Luke 16:26 that Abraham tells him, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s a very important point. As we noted last time, the first purpose of this life is to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And that is what Jesus was speaking about when he said to Martha in Luke 10:41-42, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” The offer of salvation in Jesus Christ is made to us in this life, but when this life ends, the offer is no longer there, only the final judgment. So, as the apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” None of us knows for certain that we will be here next year, or next week, or even tomorrow. So the right time to repent, believe and be saved is now.

Marc Roby: And I think the connection to Easter is now obvious. We can only be saved because the Lord Jesus Christ “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” as Paul wrote in Romans 4:25.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is exactly right. And it is my prayer, and I know yours also, that every single person who hears this podcast will be saved. But, even for those who are already saved, there is another very important connection between Jesus Christ and the answer to our question of “Where are we going?”

Marc Roby: What connection are you referring to?

Dr. Spencer: That Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of what we are to be like. God does not save his people in their sins and leave them there. He saves us from our sins and leads us to holiness.

Marc Roby: You remind me of the statement in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where, in Chapter 1 Verse 4, we read that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

Dr. Spencer: And in one sense we become holy and blameless in his sight the moment we place our trust in Jesus Christ. But the Bible is clear that there is also a lifelong process that all Christians must go through to become more holy in their thinking, feeling and conduct. This is the process of sanctification, which all true believers will experience.

Marc Roby: Although we should caution that not all believers will experience it to the same degree.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. For example, there were two thieves crucified with Christ and, initially, both of them heaped insults upon him as we read in Matthew 27:44. But eventually, one of them was granted salvation. Clearly, he didn’t have much time for the process of sanctification while he was hanging on the cross.

Marc Roby: Although he certainly had extreme suffering to focus his attention!

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And suffering is often used by God to help us focus on what is truly important. But sanctification has two aspects; definitive sanctification and progressive sanctification, which we’ll get into more later. Right now, I want to point out that there are also multiple steps to our salvation. When we come to true saving faith and trust in Christ, we are justified, which is God’s legal declaration that we are righteous in his sight because we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, to whom we have been united by faith.

Marc Roby: And justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone as the reformers taught. There is absolutely no part in it for our works.

Dr. Spencer: And it is an instantaneous one-time declaration of God. It cannot be revoked and it need not be repeated. But there is a second instantaneous, non-revocable non-repeatable aspect to salvation as well. The instant we are saved, we are changed. That is what John Murray called definitive sanctification.[2] This is what is being referred to when the biblical writers use the word sanctified in the past tense.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, the apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Marc Roby: That does clearly speak of a definitive change. You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.

Dr. Spencer: And this radical change in our being will immediately change our attitude, speech and behavior. The thief on the cross manifested this change in the short time he had available. He had been hurling insults at our Lord, but once God changed his heart, his behavior necessarily changed as well. We see in Luke 23:40-41 that he rebuked the other thief for continuing to insult Christ, saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Marc Roby: That is a clear indication of a new heart.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is, and it was the result of definitive sanctification. But sanctification also has a progressive aspect to it. God continues to work in each one of us to put our sin to death and to walk in greater righteousness.

Marc Roby: When you say that I immediately think of Romans 8:29, where Paul wrote, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is exactly my point. We are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, which is a process. And Jesus is the exemplar for a Christian. That is the connection between Easter and anthropology.

We are told in John 1:18 that “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Which is clearly speaking about Jesus Christ. He is “God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side” and he has “made him known” to us. We’re told in Hebrews 1:1-3 that “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”.

Marc Roby: That is an amazing thought. Jesus Christ has revealed the Father to us. We can’t see God with our physical eyes because he is Spirit. But those to whom Jesus appeared in the flesh have seen God as Jesus himself declared. In John 14:8 we read that the apostle Philip asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And Christ replied, in Verse 9, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

Dr. Spencer: That is hard to grasp. In being conformed to the likeness of Christ, we are being conformed to the likeness of God the Father. In 1 John 3:2 we read, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” And the theologian John Murray argues persuasively that when John wrote “we shall be like him”, he was speaking about the Father.[3]

Marc Roby: That is an amazing thought, that we will be like the Father.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but Murray also gives us a necessary warning. He wrote that “it must not be thought that likeness to God is absolute. There is a sense in which to aspire after likeness to God is the epitome of iniquity.” [4]

Marc Roby: Yes, in fact, it was being like God with which Satan tempted Eve.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it was. And Murray points out that the “genius of the allegation … consisted in confusing the false and the true in reference to likeness to God.”[5] He then goes on to point out that as a result of this possible confusion, we need revelation from God to define what it properly means for us to be like him. He goes on to say that the law of God along with the example of Christ provide the pattern to which we are to be conformed. We must remember the Creator/creature distinction. God is the law giver, we are to be law keepers, which is what Jesus Christ in his humanity did.

Marc Roby: There you go again, speaking about obeying the law. We just said a few minutes ago that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and that our works play no role whatsoever in our justification. And now you’re bringing up keeping the law as a part of the pattern. I’m sure some of our listeners will object.

Dr. Spencer: Well, I hope that any who are objecting will hear me out and then look in their Bibles and pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to them, because our good works, while playing no role whatsoever in our justification, are absolutely essential to our salvation. If there are no good works, no obedience to God’s law, then there has been no regeneration, no definitive sanctification and, therefore no justification. In other words, without our good works as evidence, any claim to having saving faith is false.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of James Chapter 2, where the Lord’s brother wrote, in Verse 26, that “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the classic chapter to make this point. He begins that section, in James 2:14, by saying, “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 describe that “such faith”, meaning a faith without any good works, is a dead faith, a useless faith, and it cannot save anyone.

Christians must never forget that we are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. And in John 8:29 Jesus said, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Remember that he is our exemplar. He always obeyed, and so should we. He also told us in John 14:15 that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Marc Roby: And 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!” Paul doesn’t say the new will come sometime in the future; he says it has come.

Dr. Spencer: Which refers to definitive sanctification. Christians are not perfect. We still have sin dwelling in us, but we have been changed and that change must be evident. People must see Christ in us. Not perfectly, but there must be change.

Paul wrote about himself in 1 Timothy 1:13 and said, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” Notice the use of the past tense here, he was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man. The clear implication is that he is no longer.

Marc Roby: Paul also expected radical change out of others. In Ephesians 4:28 he wrote that “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Dr. Spencer: And not only Paul, but God expects such change in a believer. And he expects that change because he enables that change when he causes us to be born again. It is impossible for God to give someone a new heart and for that new heart to not manifest itself in a changed life.

We were made in the image of God. But sin horribly defaced that image and we became slaves to sin as Paul tells us. We read in Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Notice again the past tense. We used to be slaves to sin. And then also notice definitive sanctification, we wholeheartedly obeyed the teaching we received. And then note how God is restoring the image with which we were originally made, we have become slaves to righteousness. Not perfect, but real change.

Marc Roby: The Old Testament call to holiness hasn’t changed. In Leviticus 11:44 we read that God commanded Moses to tell the people, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” And we see the same command in the New Testament. In fact, Peter quotes from this verse in Leviticus. In 1 Peter 1:14-16 we read, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

Dr. Spencer: Perfect holiness is required for entrance to heaven and that can only come from Jesus Christ. We will make it into heaven clothed in the righteousness of Christ. But we are also called to be holy ourselves. We will never achieve it perfectly in this life, but we must be moving in that direction and there must be a discernable change from what we were like before we were saved. We are new creations in Christ Jesus.

Jesus came to live a perfect life in perfect obedience to the law. He then gave himself as the only efficacious sacrifice to pay for our sins. And God raised him from the dead to show that everything Jesus said about himself was true, that God had accepted his payment, and that death had no power to hold him because he was sinless.

As we read in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And Jesus told us, in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Marc Roby: And in keeping with the fact that we are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, he told his disciples, in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Dr. Spencer: And that command is impossible for us to fully keep. We cannot love as Christ loved us. But that is what we are called to try and do every day. And we are to love even our enemies and tell them about Jesus Christ. He died on the cross to pay for our sins. That is unimaginable love. And he was raised from the dead on the third day, the first Easter Sunday, just as he had foretold.

I hope that all of our listeners will meditate on this unfathomable love of God as they celebrate Easter. And I pray that any who do not yet know him as their personal Lord will repent, believe, and be saved.

And remember that you can email questions or comments to us at info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

Marc Roby: And with that I think we are done for today, so on behalf of Dr. Spencer and myself I’d like to wish all of our listeners a blessed Easter.

 

[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] Ibid, pg. 310

[4] Ibid, pg. 306

[5] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine hermeneutics, the principles that we use to properly interpret the Bible. Dr. Spencer, at the end of our last session we started to discuss how to properly understand prophecy. And you noted that the prophets were, first and foremost, speaking to their contemporaries, even when they made pronouncements about the future, and that we need to keep that in mind and also to understand the historical context in order to properly understand them. Can you give us an example?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Let’s take a look at the book of Ezekiel. In Chapter 11, Verse 16, we read that God told the prophet to tell the people “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.” [1] Now, this is a very important verse, but how are we to understand the real importance if we don’t know to whom Ezekiel is speaking and what their circumstances were? Or if we don’t understand the importance of the sanctuary to them?

Marc Roby: That would seem to be impossible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would. We need to know that Ezekiel is prophesying to the exiles in Babylon. We need to know that the united kingdom of Israel, which existed under King David and his son Solomon was, after Solomon’s death, split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. And we need to know that because of its severe wickedness in God’s sight, the northern kingdom was destroyed and the people carried into captivity by the Assyrians, culminating in the destruction of the capital city of Samaria around 721 BC. The southern kingdom was also wicked and was defeated by the Babylonians, culminating in the destruction of their capital city of Jerusalem in 586 BC. We also need to know that the Jews living in Jerusalem had not believed this would happen because the temple of God was there and they thought he would never allow it to be captured and destroyed.

Marc Roby: And they knew that there had already been one miraculous deliverance when God drove off the Assyrian army, who was besieging Jerusalem in 701 BC. So, they did have some reason for confidence.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But unfortunately, they were not putting their personal trust in God himself, they were simply trusting that God would protect Jerusalem because his temple was there. They were missing the most important point; the temple of God was merely a symbol of his presence among his people. It was meant to remind them of God’s presence so that they would live holy lives. They thought they could go on living their lives as they saw fit and God would bless them no matter what because they were his chosen people. But God doesn’t work that way. He had told them, way back in Leviticus 19:2 to “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

Marc Roby: And God had also recently warned them about that false confidence in the temple. Sometime in the last couple of decades before the fall of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah had warned them, as we read Jeremiah 7:3-4 where he proclaimed, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!’”

Dr. Spencer: It’s hard to imagine how God could have made the warning any clearer than that. The temple of the Lord is just a building. If God himself is not pleased to dwell there, it cannot help you. So, getting back to Ezekiel, when he tells them that God said, “Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone”, he was pointing out that the true sanctuary, in other words the true place of peace and security, is not a building. In fact, it is not any physical location, it is being in a loving relationship with God himself.

In the early verses of this chapter, Ezekiel Chapter 11, God had told the captives that the people left in Jerusalem were thinking that they were better than the captives and that things would soon get much better.

Marc Roby: It seems to be a common, sinful human tendency to look at the troubles of other people and smugly think that we don’t have those troubles because we are somehow better than they are.

Dr. Spencer: It is very common. But, in this case, God goes on to encourage the people in captivity in Babylon. In Ezekiel 11:17 the prophet tells them, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.

Marc Roby: That must have been an incredible encouragement to these people.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it must have been. And the prophet went on, in Verse 18, to tell the people that “They will return to it [meaning Jerusalem] and remove all its vile images and detestable idols.” Then in Verses 19-20 he gives them the greatest promise of all. God says “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.”

Marc Roby: And that final statement, that “They will be my people, and I will be their God” is the heart of God’s covenant with his people.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. What could possibly be better? Put yourself in the position of these people, captive in a foreign land many miles from your homeland and imagine what a great message of hope this would be.

And, to get back to the topic of properly interpreting this passage, we could not possibly grasp the full significance of these statements if we didn’t understand the historical context.

Marc Roby: And yet, these statements are of even greater significance to us today.

Dr. Spencer: They most definitely are. That will not be true of all passages in the Old Testament of course. Some portions of Scripture serve to give us the context necessary to understand other passages that have greater theological significance. But this passage in Ezekiel is definitely one that has greater meaning for us, so we don’t want to stop at just understanding what the passage meant to the people at the time.

We who live after the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and who have the New Testament available to us, live in a time of much greater revelation. We know a great deal more about God’s plan of salvation and so we can have an even fuller understanding of these historical events and the pronouncements God made. We know that when God promises to “give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them” and to “remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” he is speaking, ultimately, about regeneration or new birth.

Marc Roby: What is the biblical warrant for making such a statement?

Dr. Spencer: When we look in Jeremiah 31:31 and 33, we see that he made a very similar statement. In Verse 31 he wrote that “‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.’ And then, in Verse 33 he wrote that “‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” This last verse is similar Ezekiel 11:20, which we just looked at. Remember it said, “Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” The writer of the book of Hebrews uses the verses from Jeremiah 31, in Hebrews 8, to talk about the new covenant of which Jesus Christ is the high priest forever.

In addition, later in Ezekiel the prophet repeats the same idea presented in Chapter 11, but adds to it the idea of cleansing from sin. In Ezekiel 36:24-28 he tells us the God said “I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 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. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.”

Marc Roby: I see where you are going with this line of thought. This idea of being cleansed by water and given a new heart is also part of what Jesus Christ said to Nicodemus in John 3. In Verse 5 of that chapter, we read that Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” And then in Verse 7 he added, “You must be born again.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a key passage in tying this all together. The passages in Ezekiel 11 and 36 and Jeremiah 31, combined with Hebrews 8 and John 3 all come together to give us a much more complete picture of what it means to be saved. In the original context of Ezekiel 11, as we have been discussing, the people who heard him where, no doubt, thinking solely of being returned to Jerusalem and living under God’s blessing. In other words, of being saved from their captivity in Babylon.

But, from our perspective, having received much greater revelation, we can see that there was a deeper meaning to these same words. We can be saved from our captivity, or we could say slavery, to sin. As the great 20th-century theologian John Murray wrote, “because of the unity of revelation and the unity of what we call both Testaments, what is patent in the New is latent in the Old.”[2]

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful way of putting it. And when you mentioned being saved from slavery to sin that immediately calls to mind Romans, Chapter 6, where Paul wrote, in Verses 20-22, that “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”

Dr. Spencer: That passage adds even more depth to the discussion, although it also introduces another idea that needs explanation for people in our generation to understand it properly, and that is this notion of being a slave. At the time the Bible was written, slavery did not always have all of the negative connotations it does now. We don’t have time now to get into that topic at the moment, but I mention it as a further example of how we need context to properly understand something written in a culture that is so foreign to our own.

Marc Roby: And this whole discussion highlights the fact that we must let Scripture interpret Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: It is a great illustration of that fact. It is also an illustration of the argument we have made a number of times that we must study all of Scripture. In drawing all of these connections, we have cited passages from Leviticus, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hebrews and Romans, and we could easily have cited others as well.

Remember that James Boice broke the principle that Scripture should interpret Scripture down into two principles: unity and noncontradiction.[3] That is why Murray said, in the quote I gave a few minutes ago, that there is unity of revelation and that unity includes both the Old and New Testaments. You cannot understand either fully without the other.

Marc Roby: Very well, I think we’ve illustrated how important it is to know something of the historical context in order to understand the prophets, and that we should focus on what the prophets were saying to the people at the time, while understanding that some of what they say may have even greater meaning for us in the light of our greater revelation. What else do we want to say about interpreting prophecy?

Dr. Spencer: I would like to make a few brief comments about a related genre, the apocalyptic sections in the Bible.

Marc Roby: I think it would be useful to point out that that word “apocalyptic” comes from the Greek word ἀποκάλυψις, which means revelation and is the first word in the original Greek version of the book we call Revelation. It is a particular type of prophetic writing,

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is a type of prophetic writing that uses a lot of symbolic imagery to tell us something about future events. The books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation all contain apocalyptic material.

There have, over the years, been a lot of silly ideas put forward about how to interpret modern events in the light of these prophecies. Jim Bakker said last year that he thinks Revelation 9:7 is speaking about Apache helicopters[4], and many people over the years have said that different passages in Daniel and Revelation refer to modern Russia or China. I’m not going to take time to go through any of these in detail, I just want to point out that they miss the main point being made by the prophecies in the Bible.

Marc Roby: They are also often linked with some prediction about the time of Christ’s return, which we are specifically told we cannot know in Matthew 24:36.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We must remember that the prophecies were not written specifically to us here in the 21st century. They were written to the people thousands of years ago. They do, of course, have importance for us too, but that importance is not tied up in our being able to determine when Christ will return, or to satisfy our curiosity about future events. In his book Interpreting the Bible, Mickelsen points out that even “the future aspect of the prophet’s message was meant to instruct, to reprove, to correct, and to encourage by exhortation. … the message of the prophet was meant to induce holy living and a spontaneous loving obedience to God.”[5]

Marc Roby: Given that we are not to use this material to try and determine when Christ will return again, how does some of the admittedly difficult imagery we find in the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation instruct us?

Dr. Spencer: I think we can learn many things from these books. For example, in a sermon our own pastor, Pastor Mathew, gave on Daniel 5 he noted that the theme of the book of Daniel “is that God Most High reigns. In other words, God is sovereign over all and does what he pleases, not what men or nations or political leaders please.”[6] Similarly, in his commentary on the book of Revelation, Joel Beeke wrote that “God controls Satan so that he cannot ultimately harm believers, but is an instrument for the destruction of the wicked – that is the theme of Revelation [Chapter] 9.”[7] And, in his commentary on the book of Revelation, Derek Thomas wrote that “In the end, the goal is worship: of God, of Christ, by the church here on earth as well as in heaven.”[8]

Marc Roby: Those are all very general conclusions.

Dr. Spencer: And deliberately so! I have no intention of treading on the very thin ice of getting into the details of parts of these books. But, my point is again that we need to stay focused on what God would have us, and believers in all ages, learn from these books.

Marc Roby: I agree it is wise to stick to the major points in some cases, and we are out of time for this week anyway. I would again like to encourage our listeners to email their questions and comments in to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[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, pp 172-173

[3] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 91

[4] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lP6YJgiMN8I

[5] A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974, pg. 288

[6] P.G. Mathew, The End is Coming, available at http://www.gracevalley.org/sermon/the-end-is-coming/

[7] J. Beeke, Revelation, Reformation Heritage Books, 2016, pg. 272

[8] Derek Thomas, Let’s Study Revelation, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2003, pg. xiv

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine the nature of true, saving faith. Dr. Spencer, last time you noted that because of total depravity, we must be born again to be saved. You then went on to point out that God’s grace is continually given to all who are born again and that grace gives us the power to live the Christian life. You ended by quoting Philippians 2:12-13, where Paul commands us, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” [1] So, why does a Christian need to work out his or her salvation with fear and trembling?

Dr. Spencer: We must make certain that we are saved because there is nothing more important in this life! Our eternal destiny is at stake, which is also why we should do it with fear and trembling. We are in serious trouble if we just go through life assuming we are saved, but never carefully examining ourselves. Christ warned the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

The whole purpose of this life is to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then to live according to his commands, being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, and thereby being prepared for eternity in God’s presence. And God makes it quite clear that it is not enough to just say “I believe in Jesus and therefore I’m saved.” Or, “I prayed to receive Christ twelve years ago, so I’m saved.” We must not trust in such superficial pronouncements.

In addition to the verses you just read, Philippians 2:12-13, we also have 2 Corinthians 13:5 where Paul commands us, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” We must receive the warning implicit in this statement, Paul leaves open the possibility that we may, in fact, fail the test. And then in 2 Peter 1:10-11 we read, “be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Notice again the conditional nature of the statement, “if you do these things, you will never fall”. The stakes could not possibly be higher. We can afford to be wrong about many things in life, but the penalty for being wrong about our salvation is missing out on heaven and suffering eternal hell instead.

Marc Roby: I remember that when we began this recent group of podcasts on the nature of true saving faith in Session 12, you quoted Matthew 7:21 where Christ warns 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.” That prospect should produce some fear and trembling.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it should. My claim to be a Christian will not save me. I will only be saved if Jesus Christ owns me as his on that day. This passage in Matthew 7 goes along with the verses I just quoted as part of the biblical warning to be very careful in this regard. Salvation is a free gift, and we do not and cannot do anything to earn it, but we must be certain that we have actually received it. It’s easy to fool ourselves, and eternity is a very, very long time. So, as I said, this is the most important thing in life. Nothing else in this life even comes close to being as important as our eternal salvation.

Marc Roby: And, of course, many modern churches help people along in deceiving themselves.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. There is absolutely nothing in this world I can do to another human being that is worse than to call myself a minister of the gospel and then to tell him that he is on his way to heaven if I have no valid basis for saying so. And it isn’t only bad for the person being deceived, it is also quite bad for the so-called minister doing the deceiving.

In Acts 20:26-27, when Paul is saying goodbye to the elders of the church in Ephesus, he says, “I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” Notice the reasoning he used. Paul said he is “innocent of the blood of all men”, because he proclaimed the whole will of God. So we can reasonably conclude that had he failed to proclaim the whole will of God he would have been guilty of their blood!

Marc Roby: And, of course, the whole will of God includes the commands to repent, believe and love one another as we are told in Acts 17:30 and 1 John 3:23.

Dr. Spencer: Right, we can’t pick and choose what to preach, we must preach the whole counsel of God. And we must point out that the command to love another in 1 John 3:23 is being used as a figure of speech called a synecdoche – which means to use a part of something to represent the whole. For example, when we refer to putting “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan or somewhere else, we’re not talking about just putting boots there, we’re talking about putting troops and all of their equipment there. In the same way, the command to love another is being used to represent the whole law of God. Paul tells us this explicitly in Galatians 5:14, where we read that “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Marc Roby: And Jesus himself emphasized the need for Christians to obey. In the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20, he commanded us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” But, how does this all tie back into the admonition to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?

Dr. Spencer: It all ties back in because we must realize that if we have been born again we are new creations, and new creations are evident for all to see. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” There must be a radical change evident in our lives or we have no sound basis for believing that we have been saved. The old must be gone, and the new must be there.

Paul gives an example of this in Ephesians 4:28 where he says that “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” If a thief is saved by God’s mighty work of regeneration, then he will not only believe, he will also repent, stop being a thief and will do useful work and, even more, he will be generous in helping others in need.

Marc Roby: But, of course, we aren’t talking about perfection are we? We’re still sinners saved by grace.

Dr. Spencer: Of course we are. We don’t look for perfection to make our calling and election sure. But we do look for radical change, and for continual change throughout life. I saw a good illustration of this when my wife and I went on a road trip this past summer. Here in California our roads are in terrible condition and, for the most part, road work consists in putting patches over the holes and cracks. But we saw a number of places east of the Mississippi where they had completely dug out miles of road down to bare dirt a couple of feet or more deep, and were completely building new roads. That is the kind of work we should see in our lives if we are born again; not some little patching of a few symptoms of the underlying sin problem, but a radical digging out and removing of the sin and replacing it with a new nature. If you have never had the experience of being deeply grieved by your own sin, of finding it loathsome and ugly and wanting to be rid of it, then you are not a Christian.

And this work will go on throughout all of life, although not always with the same intensity. But the point I am trying to make is that the work should be a deep, radical work in the core of our being. And if there is some huge besetting sin in a person’s life; like drug addiction, adultery, being a thief or whatever, you would expect there to be a very dramatic shift in the person’s life immediately. Not perfection, but an immediate radical change.

Marc Roby: Now I know that many people will voice two objections to this idea: First, that only God knows the heart, and second, that you are adding the requirement of works when the Bible says we are saved by grace alone.

Dr. Spencer: Well, first, it is true that only God knows the heart. But the Scriptures that we have cited about the importance of making our salvation sure must be dealt with. If there was no way at all for us to know, then these admonitions would not make any sense. They also would not make any sense if all we had to do was have some warm fuzzy feeling in our heart for someone we call Jesus, or some desire to be a better person. We have to be extremely careful to avoid the sentimental, feeling-based pseudo-Christianity that is so common today. The passage in Matthew 7, which you read earlier, makes clear how dangerous that is.

Secondly, it is not true that we are adding a requirement for works to be saved. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone just as the Bible and the reformers declare. When we talk about examining our works, we are not talking about the basis of our salvation, we are talking about the evidence of our salvation. As we discussed in Session 3, we don’t want to have a shallow view of the work that God is doing to sanctify us, obedience is necessary. He is changing us in a radical and serious way and such changes cannot be hidden. It isn’t just a warm feeling in my heart and then I go on living the same old way.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of the first of John’s letters, where he makes this same point. In 1 John 2:3-4 we are told that “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Dr. Spencer: That whole letter is a great one to read in this regard. He gives us a number of tests for true faith. But, he also points out near the beginning that we are still sinners, so no one can think he is talking about sinless perfection. In 1 John 1:8 we read, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There is a wonderful balance being maintained here that we should work to develop in our own thinking. Yes, we are sinners saved by grace. But, that does not mean that there is no change. He wrote in Chapter 1 Verse 6, “If we claim to have fellowship with [Christ] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” And in Chapter 2 Verse 29 he writes that “If you know that [God] is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” He says much the same thing in Chapter 3 Verse 9 where we read, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

You see, if we have been born again, there should be some visible similarity between us and our heavenly Father and our older brother Jesus Christ. God is holy and he will have a holy people. He does not save us so that we can go on sinning just like before. This verse is not speaking about sinless perfection or it would contradict his earlier statement in Chapter 1 Verse 8 that all sin. Rather, this verse is speaking about Sanctification, the process of becoming more holy. This process necessarily follows regeneration in the life of every true believer.

Marc Roby: As our Pastor likes to say, children look and act like their parents.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And if there is no visible similarity between my life and Christ, then you have a perfect right to conclude that I am not born again. That is why the Bible tells us to work out our salvation, God is warning us to avoid presumption and self deception.

Marc Roby: It’s interesting that in 2 Peter 1:10-11, which you cited a few minutes ago, we are told to make both our “calling and election” sure. I can imagine someone asking, “How can I be sure about my election? That occurs in the mind of God.” What would say in response to such a question?

Dr. Spencer: The first thing I would say is that the problem is even worse than the person thinks. Not only did my election occur in the mind of God, but it did so before the creation of the universe! We read in Ephesians 1:4 that God “chose us in him [that is in Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” So, when Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure we must conclude that there is some evidence we can look at that will indicate we were chosen. He certainly can’t mean that we are to peer into God’s eternal counsel! No one can do that.

But notice he does not just say make your election sure, he says your “calling and election”. There are different calls in the Bible, there is a general call, meaning that someone has been told the gospel, and there is what theologians call the Effectual Call, which means that it is a call that God, by the working of his Holy Spirit, makes effectual for salvation. In other words, it produces regeneration, or new birth. And, as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17 a few minutes ago, if we have been born again we are new creations.

The logical chain of reasoning here is completely clear. If I have been born again, I am a new creation. If I am a new creation, the old me is gone and there is a new me. And this new me is different. Not perfect, but different. And the difference should be evident to anyone who knows me reasonably well. Look again at Ephesians 1:4, it says that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” God has a purpose in calling us. It is to make us holy and blameless and fit for heaven.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful purpose. But we also have work to do here on earth, don’t we?

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely do. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul wrote that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This is all part of God’s perfect, eternal plan. He doesn’t need any of us, but he chooses to use us. We are to tell others about the gospel and we are to live changed lives that adorn the gospel and make it attractive. If my life is a mess, you aren’t going to be too interested if I start to tell you about Jesus Christ. But, if you look at me and see someone who is full of joy, cares about other people, is honest, does what is right and so on, then you would be more inclined to listen to what I have to say.

Marc Roby: And, I might add, I would be even more inclined to listen if I knew you before you were saved and then saw a dramatic and desirable change in your life.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, of course. If I used to waste time at work, speak ill of the boss, go to a bar and get drunk every Friday night, tell off-color jokes and so on, and then all of a sudden I start working hard, I’m respectful of the boss and others even when they aren’t around, I clean up my language and spend Friday evenings with my family, you would probably want to know what happened.

Marc Roby: The changes are not always so dramatic though.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. Many of us have our worst sins hidden pretty well from other people. But there should still be some change evident in my life, even if it isn’t as obvious, especially to people who don’t know me well. And there certainly shouldn’t be obvious open sin in my life or you aren’t going to want to listen to what I say at all.

Marc Roby: I also think it is important to talk about the changes that others may not be able to see.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. There is a lot that goes on inside that isn’t evident to others, but is important evidence when we examine ourselves to make our calling and election sure. For example, what do I think about? What do I desire? What are my motives? These are questions I have to ask myself. If I profess to be a Christian, but I’m only thinking about the affairs of this world and have no concern for what God says, no desire to pray and worship him, or to read and study his Word, or to have fellowship with other Christians, then I had better seriously question my profession of faith.

Marc Roby: I’m sure you’ve met people who claim to be Christians, but when you ask where they go to church they hem and haw around and finally admit that they don’t go very often and don’t belong to any particular church.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I’ve met people like that. And the bottom line is that they are not Christians. A real Christian will want to be a vital member of a church so he can worship with other Christians and hear the Word of God preached. The idea that if you have been baptized and go to church on Christmas and Easter, and maybe a couple of other times a year you’re a Christian is nonsense. Christianity is not just a minor addition to life, it is new life in Christ Jesus. It is a new creation. And we are all part of the body of Christ, there is no solo Christianity. We “are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” we read in Ephesians 2:22.

Marc Roby: Alright, you mentioned reading and even studying the Word of God. But I dare say that most professing Christians have not read the entire Bible, do not read it very often at all, and have never actually studied it. They would probably say that is for people who want to be ministers. How would you respond to such people?

Dr. Spencer: I would say two things. First, you must seriously question whether you are really a Christian at all. And, secondly, if you are a Christian, you are living an impoverished Christian life and I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to start reading the Bible every day. Follow a reading plan that will get you through the whole Bible and then do it over and over again. Read the study notes, get a Bible dictionary, pay attention to what you read and even take notes. You will find your life greatly enriched.

Marc Roby: I heartily agree. What else would you like to say about making our calling and election sure?

Dr. Spencer: Perhaps the most important thing is to realize what great peace and assurance we can have as Christians, and how that can make us able to go through trials in this life with great joy. If we see evidence that God has begun a work in us to change us, in other words, solid evidence that we have been born again, then our trust and hope are not in ourselves, they are in God’s promises and God’s power. Paul wrote 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.” If God is doing a mighty work in me, I don’t need to worry about whether or not he will complete it, he has promised that he will.

Marc Roby: And we can be certain that God will keep his promises.

Dr. Spencer: Amen! And I think that we have now completed a reasonable first-pass treatment on the nature of true saving faith, so in our next session I want to return to the topic of external evidence that corroborates the Bible.

Marc Roby: Very well. I think that concludes this session and I look forward to next time.

[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.™.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to consider the nature of true, saving faith. Dr. Spencer, last time you spoke about living in union with Christ, and made the point that the most important thing we need to know is that Jesus Christ is the supreme Lord of all. You ended by saying that a Christian’s ability to obey God is the result of being born again and of God’s grace working in us. I’d like to explore that statement today.

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The first point is that we must be born again. Jesus Christ himself said, in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” [1] This is speaking of a radical change in our inmost being.

Marc Roby: But, many would say that this change is the result of our having decided to follow Jesus. How would you respond to that?

Dr. Spencer: That idea has the cause and effect backwards. It’s true that a Christian has decided to follow Jesus. But, remember what we said last time about our nature. No one can choose to do something that is completely contrary to his nature. So, no one will choose to follow Jesus Christ unless his nature has been changed first. And that is what being born again is all about.

God must do a miraculous work in us first, and only after God has done that work will we respond in repentance and faith. We make a free-will decision to follow Jesus, but we are only able to make such a decision after God has given us a new nature. And, further, if God has given us that new nature, we certainly will respond in repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: I want to make sure this point is clear to our listeners, because much of the modern church world has this important point backwards. Many would say that when we repent and believe we are born again. But, that is not the order presented in the Bible, is it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t the biblical order at all. And it doesn’t make sense. Just like you can’t do anything to cause yourself to be born physically, so also you can’t do anything to bring about your rebirth. That is the point of the metaphor. We read in Romans 8:5-8 that, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires … The mind of sinful man is death, … 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, in speaking about the “sinful mind” here, Paul is talking about unbelievers; people who have not been born again. The sinful nature we are born with affects the mind and prevents an unbeliever from willfully submitting to God’s law, or from doing anything to please God. The unbeliever is hostile to God. So how can he choose to follow God?

Marc Roby: That’s a good question.

Dr. Spencer: The great 20th-century theologian John Murray gave a lengthier version of the question that I think it would be well worth our time to read. He wrote, “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: I’m sure that quote will rile up some of our listeners!

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it will too. But it is completely biblical. Paul wrote, in Ephesians 2:1-2, “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.” So, calling us dead in trespasses and sins is a direct quote from the Bible. Murray next said that the natural man is “at enmity with God”, which is also straight from the Bible, we just quoted Romans 8:7 a minute ago and it says that “the sinful mind is hostile to God”, in the King James version the word enmity is used instead of hostile. Murray next says that the natural man has a mind that is “darkened and depraved”. And in Romans 1:21 & 28 Paul wrote that unregenerate people have hearts that are darkened and minds that are depraved. So, if someone wants to take exception to what Dr. Murray wrote, he needs to take it up with God, not Dr. Murray.

Marc Roby: I don’t think anyone will get very far taking the issue up with God. And, perhaps it would be good to point out now that the fact that man is hostile to God and unable to do anything that pleases God is part of the doctrine called Total Depravity.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, although the name total depravity can be misleading, so some have suggested giving the doctrine a different name, something like Radical Corruption. The doctrine does not mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be. There is no doubt, for example, that many unbelievers do many things that are, in themselves, good things. We are not all serial rapists or murderers or anything of the sort. What the doctrine does mean is that there is no part of our being that is unaffected by sin. And that is why we cannot, in our natural estate, respond to God’s offer of salvation in the gospel. We mentioned Ephesians 2:1 before, where Paul wrote that we “were dead in [our] transgressions and sins”. And dead people don’t reach out and lay ahold of a lifesaver that is thrown to them. Dead people do nothing.

Marc Roby: The point you are making, that natural man cannot choose to follow Christ, also fits perfectly with what Paul wrote in Romans 3:11, where he said that there is “no one who seeks God.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Unless God works first, no one will turn to Jesus in saving faith. Jesus Christ himself said, in John 6:44, that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. And the Greek verb used for draw in that verse is ἑλκύω (helkuo), which means to drag, it is not speaking about a mere wooing or even coercion. It is the same word used in Acts 16:9 where we read that Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace, and in Acts 21:30 where we read about Paul being dragged from the temple, and again in John 21:11 where we read that Peter dragged a fishing net ashore. So, this is not describing God gently wooing people.

Marc Roby: At this point I’m pretty sure that some, if not many, of our listeners are objecting strenuously!

Dr. Spencer: I’m again sure that’s true. And I clearly remember this being one of the points that I found most disturbing before God mercifully saved me. I can remember objecting that the gospel was not a legitimate offer of salvation if I didn’t have the power to accept it.

Marc Roby: That is a very common argument.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. It’s a common argument because the unregenerate mind does not think biblically. The bottom line is that before I was born again, I was responsible before God. He created me, and yet I was a rebellious sinner who rejected him and, therefore, deserved his wrath. And the reason I wouldn’t accept his offer of salvation was not because there was any fault in the offer or the One making the offer, it was because there was a fault in me. I could not humble myself and acknowledge God to be just and true. I could not seek God until he started to draw me unto himself. My sinful nature made me incapable of accepting his offer.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that at this point many people will want to ask the question, “Why would God choose to draw you, but not some other person?”

Dr. Spencer: I would say that is an outstanding question. And I am perpetually astounded that God would choose to draw me! But, the bottom line is that we aren’t given the answer to that question in the Bible. What we are told, is that God did not choose me because of anything I have ever done or will do. In Romans 9:16 the apostle Paul speaks about God’s electing some and not others and writes that it “does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” In other words, the reason for his choice was not based on anything worthy in the person chosen, it was based on his own good pleasure. This is called the doctrine of election.

Marc Roby: And Chapter 9 of Romans, which you just quoted, has a clear presentation of the biblical doctrine of election.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does. Paul uses the twin sons of the patriarch Isaac, Jacob and Esau, as an example. He writes, in verses 10-13, that “Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Marc Roby: That is a very difficult doctrine for most of us to accept.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. But we can’t determine what is true based on what we like or don’t like. There are many things in this life I don’t like. I don’t like getting sick, I don’t like getting old, I don’t like it when I can’t do something as well as I want to and so on. But I’ve never noticed any real correlation between what I would like to be true and what is true.

Marc Roby: Nor have I.

Dr. Spencer: So, as we noted in Sessions 4 and 7, a Christian’s ultimate standard for truth is the Bible. If there is something taught in the Bible that I don’t like, then it is not the Bible’s problem, it is my problem. First of all, what is taught there is true. And secondly, since it is God’s word and all that he does is perfect, I need to change. I need to try and understand why the truth that I don’t like is displeasing to me and I need to take action to correct my thinking and my feelings.

Marc Roby: Alright, so how do you deal with this doctrine of election?

Dr. Spencer: As I noted before, we all begin with a sinful nature handed down to us from our parents. And, because of that sinful nature, we cannot submit to God’s law, nor can we accept his free offer of salvation because we are, in the core of our being, hostile to him. Therefore, if God had only chosen to make salvation possible for everyone through Christ’s death on the cross, but left it up to us to choose, no one would be saved. We would all reject the offer because of our sinful natures. Therefore, given God’s desire to save a people for himself, it was necessary for him to change our natures so that we can accept his offer.

Marc Roby: And we are first told of this monergistic work of God in the Old Testament, aren’t we?

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, for example, we read about this in Ezekiel 36. But, before I read that passage, let me point out that the word you just used, monergistic, simply means that regeneration is a work of God alone. It is not a work in which we cooperate, it is a work in which we are entirely passive. But we must emphasize that as we saw in the quote from John 6:44, God does work to draw us to him, which is certainly something we’ll be very aware of and participate in, and then, once he has regenerated us, we are also active in repenting and believing. So, saying we are passive in regeneration does not in any way imply that we are passive in coming to faith in Christ. We may go through a great deal as God draws us to himself and then we each must individually repent of our sins, trust in Christ, and walk in obedience. God does not do these things for us.

Marc Roby: That is an important point.

Dr. Spencer: But, now let me get to the passage in Ezekiel. In Chapter 36, verses 26 and 27, “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.” This is speaking of the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit. It is a work that has been done in every true Christian. And note that three times in this short passage God says “I will”; this is his work in us. We must have our hearts of stone removed and be given new hearts of flesh, and we must be given God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to guide us and empower us to keep God’s laws.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful passage. But let me summarize what we’ve covered so far. You’ve argued that in his natural state, man is not able to repent and believe in Jesus Christ because man hates God. Then you argued that God chose to save some people, for reasons known only to him, and that he then draws these people to himself and regenerates them, or we could say causes them to be born again, so that they then repent and believe and are saved. Is that an accurate summary?

Dr. Spencer: It is an accurate summary. And the particular doctrine of election we have been discussing, which is the biblical doctrine, is called Unconditional Election. It is unconditional in the sense that God’s choosing someone does not in any way depend on what that person has done or will do in the future. And this doctrine necessarily follows from a proper understanding of the pervasive and profound effects of sin in us, which we noted earlier is called the doctrine of total depravity. And it is because of total depravity that we must be born again in order to be saved. Our nature must be changed so that we are able to respond to God’s offer of salvation. But, praise God, he causes all those whom he has chosen to be born again.

Marc Roby: But how should one of our listeners deal with this if he or she hasn’t been born again. Are they just to sit around and wait for God to act?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely not! That is a common charge made against this doctrine, that it leaves people without hope. But that is the opposite of the truth. If God only made salvation possible, but it depended on us to respond, then we would be without any hope because, as we have argued before, no one would respond and be saved.

But given the possibility of new birth there is hope. So, my counsel to anyone who is not yet born again, or isn’t sure, is to cry out for God’s mercy. Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” So, don’t let yourself be concerned about the fact that you can’t cause yourself to be born again. If you are becoming conscious of your sin and your need for a Savior, it may very well be the sign that God is drawing you. So don’t resist. God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) So, don’t delay, don’t waste time probing into the mystery of how to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility, simply cry out “Have mercy on me a sinner!” Order a copy of the book we offer at the end of each podcast, read it, believe it, and then look for a good church to join.

Marc Roby: Alright. I’m sure we will come back to this critically important topic again, but for now let’s move on. We started this session by looking at the statement you made last time, that a Christian’s ability to obey God is the result of being born again and of God’s grace working in him. We have discussed the first part, the need to be born again, but let’s address the second part. What do you mean by saying that we need God’s grace working in us to obey God?

Dr. Spencer: Being born again is a radical transformation, but it does not remove sin from us. We have a new nature, which desires to please God, and we have a new ability to obey, but we also still have our sinful nature, which wars against us, as we’ve said before. We also have powerful external enemies. Satan does not stand idly by and let God rip someone out from under his dominion. The minute we are born again we also enter into spiritual warfare. Satan will come and try to destroy our faith.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, impossible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6 that he was confident that God, having begun a good work in us, would “carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” But, even though the ultimate victory is certain, the war still needs to be fought, and we must fight it. Our enemies are powerful. We must oppose Satan and his demons, the world itself, which is opposed to God’s kingdom, and the indwelling sin that rises up as a traitor within us.

Marc Roby: And that is why you are saying we need God’s grace. So, perhaps it would be good to define what is meant by grace.

Dr. Spencer: People often define it as the unmerited favor of God, which is true. You could go further and say that it is God’s favor granted to those who deserve his condemnation. But, even that doesn’t fully grasp the New Testament usage of the term. To understand the full meaning of the term you need to see how it is used throughout the New Testament. I like how Louis Berkhof defines it in his systematic theology. He says that the most common meaning is that “it signifies the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit. … it is in reality the active communication of divine blessings by the inworking of the Holy Spirit.”[3] So, perhaps we could say that the grace of God is the source of a Christian’s power to overcome sin, Satan and the world, and to live a life that is pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: And I certainly know that I need help to live that life.

Dr. Spencer: We all need help to live that life. But God gives us the help that we need. In 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul calls himself the least of all the apostles because he had persecuted the church prior to his conversion. He then compares himself with the other apostles and writes, in verse 10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” And, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul is exhorting them to fulfill their promise to give generously to the church in Jerusalem and he writes, in 2 Corinthians 9:8, that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful promise. But how does one go about obtaining this grace?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the first thing of course is that we must be born again as we have been discussing. Then, secondly, we need to make use of what are called the means of grace. The 88th question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism deals with this, although it doesn’t use the word grace. The answer reads, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption [or we could say, the means of grace] are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” There isn’t any magic incantation or anything like that, we are to read God’s Word, seek him in prayer, and join a proper church that preaches the Word faithfully, and which faithfully administers the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Not stated in the answer, but certainly included in the scope of belonging to a good church, is the idea of Christian fellowship. In addition to needing God’s help, we need each other in order to faithfully live out the Christian life.

Marc Roby: I find John Calvin’s statement about this encouraging, he wrote the following; “What God demands from us by his word he likewise bestows by his Spirit, so that we are strengthened in the grace which he has given to us.”[4]

Dr. Spencer: That is a great statement of God’s promise to us in his Word.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else you would like to add before we finish for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes there is. An important part of the Christian life involves examining ourselves to see if we are in the faith and to see how we need to change to progress in that faith. Paul commands us in Philippians 2:12-13 to “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Notice in this verse we see both our activity, we are the ones who are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and we also see God’s activity, we can work out because he is working in us. In our next podcast I want to explore this aspect of the Christian life.

Marc Roby: Alright, that certainly gives us something to look forward to.

[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, pg. 169

[3] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996 (combined edition of Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology), pg. 427

[4] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, in Calvins Commentaries, Vol. XXI, Baker Books, 2009, pg. 208

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine the nature of true saving faith. In our last session, Dr. Spencer argued that Christianity is not a self-help program and, in fact, is not primarily focused on improving this life, but instead places its emphasis squarely on eternity—the life to come. He then explained the double imputation, wherein our sins are imputed to Christ and his perfect righteousness is imputed to us. And we then briefly discussed the doctrine of union with Christ.

Dr. Spencer, you finished last session by arguing that a true Christian, that is, someone who is united by faith to Jesus Christ, will live an obedient life. What else should we know about living in union with Christ?

Dr. Spencer: The most important thing we need is a proper understanding of the relationship. The modern church loves to talk about Jesus as my friend, or my big brother, or my helper, or my guide, or my example; all of which are true in some measure. But the one thing the modern church avoids like the plague is the most important thing that must be said about my relationship with Jesus Christ; he is my Lord!

Marc Roby: Many modern Christians have been raised with the idea that I can have Jesus as my Savior, but that submitting to him as Lord is an optional step.

Dr. Spencer: I am well aware of that idea, but it could not possibly be more contrary to what the Bible teaches. As we saw last time with the story about the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, the Bible does say that if we believe in Jesus Christ we will be saved. But, as I endeavored to show last time, you have to flesh out what it means to “believe in Jesus.” You must believe in the true Jesus, not some counterfeit. And the true Jesus is the sovereign Lord of the universe, whether we acknowledge that fact or not. And this is a critical point, our confessing Jesus as Lord does not affect reality one way or the other, he is Lord. So, if you look at Romans 10:9 for example, you get a slightly fuller picture of what it means to believe in Jesus. That verse says, “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.”[1]

Marc Roby: I find it interesting that this verse doesn’t just say you must believe in the resurrection, it says you must “believe in your heart”.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is an important point. Now when Paul talks about our heart, he doesn’t mean our emotions or something that is somehow opposed to our intellect. Nor does he mean mere intellectual assent to some Bible truths. In the Bible, the word ‘heart’ refers to the totality of the person, that which constitutes the very core of our being. Our heart includes our mind, our will, and our affections. And saving faith, that faith which unites us to Jesus Christ, is only found in a heart that God has made good by the miracle of regeneration. Such a person is the one whom Paul is talking about when he says, “believe in your heart.” And such a faith will produce a changed life.

But, I want to focus on the first part of Paul’s statement. He said “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ … you will be saved.” This gives us a bit more information than we are given in the account of the Philippian jailer.

Marc Roby: Although I’m confident that the Philippian jailer was also told about the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, I’m quite certain that you’re right. In fact, going back to Acts 16 for just a moment, right after the jailer was told to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved, we read, in verse 32, “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.” We should ask ourselves, what was this “word of the Lord” that Paul and Silas spoke? I’m sure it included that fact that Jesus Christ is the Lord of all and that he demands obedience. Look at the great commission in Matthew 28. In verses 18-20 Christ told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” So I’m confident this was part of the word of the Lord that was spoken to the jailer’s household.

Marc Roby: Alright, we don’t call other people lord in America, and although the title is still used in England, I think it would good to explain what it means for Jesus to be called Lord.

Dr. Spencer: Let’s go back to Romans 10:9 – where we are told “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ … you will be saved”. The Greek word translated as Lord in that sentence is κύριος (kurios). This word has different meanings. It can, for example, be translated as “sir” or “master” as it is many times in the New Testament. In that sense it is simply a title of honor. But it can also mean far, far more! The Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that was in use at the time of Jesus, uses the word κύριος to translate the Hebrew name for God, usually pronounced Jehovah, or Yahweh. And there are several places in the New Testament when an Old Testament reference to Jehovah is clearly applied to Jesus Christ.

For example, in the passage we are looking at in Romans Chapter 10, a few verses after being told “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ … you will be saved” we read, in verse 13, that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This is a quote from the Old Testament prophet Joel, and if you look at Joel 2:32 you will see that the word Lord is in all capital letters, which means it is the Hebrew word Jehovah as we noted in Session 6. So, this passage in Romans tells us that Jesus Christ is God, he is Lord in the sense of being the Sovereign Lord of all creation.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Romans 10:13 is not the only New Testament reference to equate Jesus Christ with the Old Testament Jehovah. We could also cite Hebrews 1:10, 1 Peter 2:3 and 3:15.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We could go on and make a much more lengthy argument to prove that Jesus Christ is God, and we will do that in a later podcast, but right now I want to go back to consider what it means for him to be Lord. And the point I am making is that we need to take the word Lord in the highest possible sense when we use it to refer to Christ.

Marc Roby: It makes me think of the passage in Philippians 2:8-11 where we read, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dr. Spencer: Amen. And every knee certainly will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We can either confess now and be saved, or we can confess later and be damned, but everyone will confess.

Marc Roby: And all of this will redound to the glory of God the Father.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We could also cite Hebrews 1:1-3 where we are told that, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” We see that the universe was made through Jesus Christ and that he sustains it. He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”. In other words, he is God. When the people saw the man Jesus Christ, they were seeing the exact representation of God in human form.

John says the same thing in John 1:18 where we read, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Notice that “God the One and Only” is “at the Father’s side”! This is a clear statement that both Jesus and the Father are God, two persons of the Holy Trinity.

Marc Roby: So, when we declare “Jesus is Lord”, we are simply acknowledging the fact that he is God, the Creator and Sustainer of everything.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And he will be the Judge of everything as well. He came the first time to bring salvation, but we are told in Acts 10:42 that he is also the one who will judge both the living and the dead. Therefore, when we say “Jesus is Lord”, there should be some trembling. I’m afraid the modern church has lost its fear of God, which is to say that it has lost true Christianity. We are told in Proverbs 9:10 that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”, and in Romans Chapter 3, where Paul gives a terrible list of the sins of men, he ends by saying, in verse 18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes”, which is a summary statement that explains all of the sins and is, itself, a horrible sin. It is unbelief.

Right after Moses gave the people the Ten Commandments, they were terrified because of the thunder and lightning and smoke on Mt. Sinai, and Moses said to them, in Exodus 20:20, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Marc Roby: Fear can be a good thing!

Dr. Spencer: Fear is often a very good thing. Fear of physical harm keeps us from many stupid mistakes in this world, but most importantly, the fear of God will keep us from sinning. As has been said many times, we would live differently if God were visibly standing next to us all of the time.

Marc Roby: And yet, we need to remember that God is with us at all times.

Dr. Spencer: Yes he is, and it is a very good thing to keep in mind. But this all comes back to realizing that he is Lord. I am but a sinful creature, he is my creator. As we said back in Session 2, the Creator/creature distinction is central to the message of the Bible. And yet, this idea of coming into the presence of a holy, omnipotent, omniscient, absolutely just God is completely absent from most modern churches.

When I travel and visit other churches, I’m careful to look online and try to find a church that appears to be faithful to the Bible, but I am often appalled at the casual manner of most of the people who come to church. They don’t act or dress any differently than they might to go out to Starbucks for a cup of coffee on Saturday morning. And yet, here they are supposedly coming into the presence of God Almighty to worship him.

Marc Roby: I’ve had the same sad experience. I’m sure they would dress and act differently if they were going to see some important person here on earth.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure they would.

Marc Roby: So, we’ve made the point that true Christians must understand that their confession includes the statement “Jesus is Lord”, and they must know how serious that is.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a critical point. It isn’t just that we believe in him as a good moral teacher or example of self-sacrifice, it must be that we come to him as our Lord. And that means that we are his blood-bought slaves.

Marc Roby: Slave is a term loaded with all sorts of negative connotations.

Dr. Spencer: And for good reason given human history. But, it is a term that the Bible uses unashamedly. Paul begins the book of Romans by introducing himself, saying, in the Greek, “Παῦλος, δοῦλος Χριστοῦ ᾿Ιησοῦ” (Paulos, doulos Christou Iasou), which means, Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus. And that same expression is used elsewhere as well.

In fact, Paul argues quite forcefully, and quite clearly, in Romans 6 and elsewhere that everyone is a slave. The only question is, who is your master? In Romans 6:16 he wrote, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Marc Roby: I’m quite confident that many, if not most, of our listeners will object that they are not slaves to anyone or anything.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that you’re right. But, what does it mean to be a slave? It means that you have no freedom, you are bound to someone or something as your master. And if someone is outside of Jesus Christ, meaning simply that he has not been born again and has not confessed Jesus as Lord, that person has a sinful nature handed down to him. And we are all slaves to our nature. We cannot choose to do that which we do not in any sense want to do.

We will discuss human free will in a later podcast, but it is important to note that we do not have absolute freedom. There is the obvious fact that we are not free to do things we are not physically capable of, but it is equally true that we are not free – unless we are forced – to choose things that are completely inconsistent with our nature. As a rather silly example, I would never choose a cup of coffee, because I hate coffee. And a sinner hates God, so he will never choose to obey God, which means that everything he does is sin. Even when an external action is in agreement with God’s law, an unbeliever’s motive is wrong and so it is still sin. There is a Latin phrase that theologians use for this condition, it is non posse non peccare, which means not able to not sin. That is the condition of anyone who have not confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, and who is, in other words, outside of Christ. He can only sin, and it is in that sense that we can say he is a slave to sin.

Marc Roby: I dare say that most people have a hard time swallowing that idea.

Dr. Spencer: I know I had a hard time, so I’m sure you’re right. But, part of the problem is our definition of sin. We tend to look at gross external sins against other people; for example, murder, or rape, or stealing, or something along those lines. And most of us can say that we’ve never done these things, so we tend not to think of ourselves as sinners. But, as we said in Session 10, sin is properly defined by Question 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism as “any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.” And his law requires, as just one perfectly sufficient example, that I love the Lord God with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength (Dt 6:5, Mrk 12:30, Lk 10:27). So we all stand condemned of not having kept God’s law.

Marc Roby: Alright, but what about a Christian? We still sin, and I don’t think any of us can say that we keep God’s law perfectly at any time – especially when I consider the command you just mentioned to love God with my whole being. So, in what sense can we be considered to be slaves to righteousness as Paul calls us in Romans 6?

Dr. Spencer: I certainly agree that none of us keep God’s law perfectly. He has not chosen to remove sin from us, so we still struggle with the sinful nature. There is a battle going on inside every Christian. There is a desire, and an ability, to obey God; but there is also a sinful nature still resident that wars against us. So, we are slaves of Christ, but we are not yet perfected. God has begun a good work in us, and we can be confident, as Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, that God will complete that work. But, in the meantime, we struggle. There is a Latin phrase for our condition too, it is posse non peccare, meaning simply that it is possible to not sin, and there is another Latin phrase that describes this internal conflict, we are simul justus et peccator, which means simultaneously just and sinner. We are just in God’s sight because we are united to Christ by faith, but we still have a sinful nature within us.

Faith is called by the reformers the instrumental cause of our justification, which is one of the five causes Aristotle listed for any effect. The instrumental cause is the means, or instrument, through which an effect is brought about. The example is often used of a statue, in which case the chisel is the instrumental cause.

So, to answer your question, I think there are two ways in which we can be considered to be righteous. First, and most importantly, we are perfectly righteous in union with Jesus Christ, his righteousness has been imputed to us. But, secondarily, there is also an imperfect, but improving, practical righteousness of our own.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think I can summarize what we’ve said so far by saying that a true Christian acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord both with his mouth, and albeit imperfectly, with his life.

Dr. Spencer: Well said. And, as I said, that is the most important point in living out our lives in union with Christ. He is our Lord. But, there is more, because we are also given the ability to obey. I argued a few minutes ago that an unbeliever is not able to obey God, which is true. But the ability to obey is itself a gift, it isn’t something that we conjure up, it is the result of our being born again and of God’s grace working in our lives.

Marc Roby: Well, that should serve as a good teaser for our next session, because we are out of time for today.

[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.™.

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