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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, which is repentance and faith. Dr. Spencer, in our session last week we emphasized the fact that true, saving faith has content. The object of saving faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to go back to what we were discussing at the end last time. We had noted that we shouldn’t try to give an exact list of doctrines that must be believed in order to be a Christian. We said the real issue was one of trust. And we had mentioned that a child can have true, saving faith with a very limited understanding of doctrine.

Marc Roby: I remember all of that. What point do you want to make from it?

Dr. Spencer: Well, considering the faith of a child is a great way of recognizing why we don’t want to try and give an exact list of necessary doctrines. There are many doctrines of the faith that are very hard for adults to explain in any meaningful way – for example the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ – so we certainly can’t expect a young child to have a solid intellectual understanding of these things. What we do expect is that the child sees his need for a Savior, and that he trusts that Jesus Christ is that Savior, and that he believes what the Bible says, even though he can’t understand it all.

Marc Roby: Of course, no adult understands it all either.

Dr. Spencer: In a way that is precisely my point. We don’t necessarily look for a certain level of knowledge or intellectual understanding, what we look for is a receptive heart to the level of knowledge a person possesses about Christ.

So, for example, what level of knowledge did the thief on the cross have when he was saved?

Marc Roby: Well, I would have to say that no one knows the answer to that.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree. But it is certainly possible and, in fact, likely, that he knew very little. He may have simply heard that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah, and that he had performed some miracles. We know that at first this thief joined with the other thief in hurling insults at Christ because, for example, we are told in Mark 15:32 that “Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” [1] But then something happened to the one thief and he changed his tune completely.

Marc Roby: Yes. He was born again.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what happened. In God’s amazing eternal plan this thief had been chosen from all eternity to be saved. And here on the last day of his miserable life, hanging on a cross in great pain, he was given a new heart and new mind. And because of having been regenerated, he all of a sudden realized from what he had personally witnessed about Christ that the things he had heard were true. We don’t know, but we can imagine that it was when Christ prayed for those who were crucifying him. We read in Luke 23:34 that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Marc Roby: That would certainly be an amazing thing to hear Jesus say.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would. But, in any event, independent of exactly how God brought it about, this thief was able to see for the first time that his own sins deserved judgment from God and that his only hope was this Messiah hanging on the cross next to him.

Marc Roby: I can’t imagine what must have been going through his heart and mind. He had to have a lot of questions he would have liked to ask and a lot of things that he didn’t fully understand.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure he did. And all of us have questions as well, things we don’t understand. But with his new regenerate heart, he did understand that he needed salvation and he trusted in Christ to save him. We read in Luke 23:40-41 that when the other thief continued to insult Christ, this newly born-again thief rebuked him, 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.” And then, in Verse 42 we read his plea for mercy and his confession of faith. He looked at Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Saying “remember me” was a plea for mercy, and speaking about Christi’s kingdom was a confession that Jesus Christ is, in fact, what the signs placed on his cross by Pilate said, the King of the Jews.

Marc Roby: And this thief had also proven his faith by the good work of rebuking the other thief.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, you’re right about that. God has work for every single one of his chosen people to do. This man didn’t have long, but he did the work he was assigned. And he has been with Christ in bliss for nearly 2,000 years.

Marc Roby: That is a glorious thought.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. But it also illustrates why we shouldn’t try to give a precise or exhaustive statement of what doctrines must be believed in order to be saved.

It is equally important, however, that we don’t jump into the other ditch and say that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere, or anything silly like that. This thief trusted in Christ and believed the information he did have. People who reject the gospel when it is presented to them are not born again, even if they call themselves Christians. We can still look for a credible confession of faith as we noted last week.

We are saved by faith alone, but not by just any faith someone might have. It must be faith in the true and living God and his plan of salvation revealed in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Can you give us an example of a faith that does not save?

Dr. Spencer: I can do better than to give an example of faith that doesn’t save. I can give an example of a completely useless faith, or to be more accurate, a so-called faith. In his book Foundations of the Christian Faith, James Boice gives a great example using the famous book by Norman Vincent Peale called The Power of Positive Thinking.[2]

Marc Roby: Well, I’ll have to confess that I’ve never read that book, although I have certainly heard about it many times.

Dr. Spencer: And I have to make the same confession, I’ve never read it either. Nevertheless, Boice points out that Peale ends the book by saying “so believe and live successfully.”[3] In Boice’s analysis of the book, he says the object of faith doesn’t really seem to matter to Peale. Faith itself is seen as some great powerful thing all in itself.

Marc Roby: Now, that is a strange view, but I have to admit I’ve heard a number of things over the years that sound very much like that.

Dr. Spencer: And so have I. And J. Gresham Machen also talked about this view in his book “What is Faith?”. He wrote that “The whole trouble is that faith is being considered merely as a beneficent quality of the soul without respect to the reality or unreality of its object; and the moment faith comes to be considered in that way, in that moment it is destroyed.”[4]

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting statement. What does Machen mean by saying that faith is destroyed?

Dr. Spencer: When Machen says that faith is destroyed when it is thought to be beneficent independent of whether or not its object is real, I think he means that when faith is thought of this way, then real saving faith is not possible.

The young man we spoke about last week, who said he was a Christian even though he didn’t believe in the most basic tenets of the Christian faith, is a good example of a useless or vain faith, a faith that has been destroyed. People with such faith will find out in the most awful way imaginable how useless their faith is when they come face to face with Christ on the day of judgment and hear him say to them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” as we read in Matthew 7:23.

Marc Roby: We could say that such faith is not just useless, it is, quite literally, damning. It sends you to eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: That is the terrifying truth. Therefore, although we don’t want to come up with a formal statement of the minimal doctrinal knowledge required for true, saving faith, we nonetheless must stand firmly with Jesus and declare that real faith has content. It is the truth that will set us free, not a lie. True faith has an object. And, as we have seen, the object of real saving faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ. If he is not truly who he said he was and if he didn’t do what the Bible says he did, our faith is useless.

Marc Roby: Well, that makes me think of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:16-19 in defense of the doctrine of the resurrection. He said there, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Dr. Spencer: And indeed we are to be pitied more than all men if Jesus Christ is not our Savior and God’s promises about eternity are not true. As Paul said, such faith is futile, it serves no useful purpose. Believing in a lie is never a good thing, nor is mere wishful thinking. But, praise God, he is truth and his Word is true.

In Hebrews 11:1 we read that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” And we must ask the question, “What is it that we hope for?” And in the context of this verse the answer is clear; our hope is for the promises of God to be fulfilled. Just a few verses before this we read, in Hebrews 10:36, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, the preeminent promise of God to his people is eternal life. We read in John 6:40 that Jesus himself said, “my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Dr. Spencer: And what a glorious promise that is. When Jesus was speaking to Martha just before raising her brother Lazarus from the dead, we read in John 11:25-26 that he said, “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.”

Marc Roby: Those are difficult statements for people to understand.

Dr. Spencer: Well, they are impossible to understand if you have a materialist worldview. In fact, if you think this material universe is all that exists, the statements are completely nonsensical; how can you possibly live even though you die? How can you never die? These things are impossible in a purely materialist universe. You need a proper biblical worldview to understand them.

Unless Christ comes again first, we will all die someday. But death is not a cessation of existence, it is separation as we discussed in Session 104. When we physically die, our spirits will be separated from our bodies. But that is a temporary state. The Bible clearly teaches that at the end of history every person will be united again with his or her physical body, although the body will be different. It will be suited to our eternal state, whether that is heaven or hell.

Marc Roby: And we will all spend eternity in one of those two places.

Dr. Spencer: That is the truth as presented to us in the Bible. So, when Jesus said that “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies”, he simply meant that if we have saving faith in Christ, then when we die physically, our spirits will immediately go into the presence of God and we will then spend eternity with him. First in our spirits and then, later, in our resurrection bodies. And that is true life. That is eternal life. So, what Jesus said is completely true, we will live – in the fullest sense of that word – even though we die in the sense of having our spirit separated from this physical body.

Marc Roby: I can’t think of a more wonderful promise than that.

Dr. Spencer: Neither can I. But we must notice that the promise is conditional. Jesus said “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies”. When those who do not believe in Jesus Christ die, their spirits immediately go to hell. Then, when their bodies are united to their spirits at the end of the age, they will spend all of eternity in hell, in torment.

Marc Roby: And I can’t think of a more terrifying threat than that.

Dr. Spencer: Nor can I. But God’s threats are just as sure as his promises. And notice that the difference between the two groups of people, those headed for hell and those headed for heaven, is faith in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: OK. We have said that true saving faith has content, and I think it would be good for me to summarize the content we have gone over so far. First, we must know the bad news that we are headed for hell and can’t save ourselves. Second, we must understand that Jesus Christ came and died to pay for my sins. And third we must understand that God has promised us eternal life in Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s all true, although we need to again be clear to point out that even a child’s understanding of these things can be sufficient for salvation. Adults have a difficult enough time thinking about eternity, but for children that concept is completely beyond them. Nevertheless, they can understand very early on that they have done things wrong and deserve punishment, but that Jesus loves them and allowed himself to be punished in their place. They can also understand, to some degree at least, that there is a reward awaiting all those who faithfully serve Christ and punishment for those who reject him.

Marc Roby: All right. We understand that a child can be saved without an adult-level understanding. We have also seen that the thief was saved with minimal understanding, but what does that tell us about what a typical adult must believe in order to be saved?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I think the reason it is important to realize that a child’s understanding can be sufficient for salvation is that it helps us focus on the main element, which is trust. A child knows his father and mother for example. That doesn’t mean he knows all about them and what they have done, or are capable of doing, it means he knows them as people who love him and take care of him. And saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is similar. Berkhof wrote that “All true saving faith must contain at least a minimum of knowledge, not so much of the divine revelation in general as of the Mediator and His gracious operations.”[5]

Marc Roby: Perhaps we could say that it isn’t that we have to possess some minimum level of knowledge about Christ, but we must know him personally as our Savior and Lord.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a good way of putting it. An adult will, of course, have a greater understanding, but the underlying issue is the same; do you know Jesus? Do you see that you have a problem? Do you see that Jesus is able and willing to solve your problem? In other words, do you trust in Jesus Christ himself? And do you believe whatever level of revelation you have been given about this Christ, in other words, do you trust the Word of God to be true.

Marc Roby: Well, we have established that saving faith has content, in other words, information. But the important issue is not so much the extent of our knowledge, but rather it is our response to the knowledge we possess. If we respond by believing God’s Word and trusting in Christ, we will be saved.

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

Marc Roby: And it is also a reasonable place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to respond.

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

[2] J. Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp 409-410

[3] Ibid

[4] Machen, What is Faith?, The MacMillan Comp., 1925, pg. 174

[5] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 504

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Marc Roby: Well, Dr. Spencer, it is hard to believe, but we have completed three full years of podcasts and this session marks the beginning of our fourth year!

Dr. Spencer: That is hard to believe, but we have a great deal more to cover and I’m excited to get going, so let’s go ahead and begin our fourth year.

Marc Roby: OK, let’s do it.

We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, or repentance and faith. In our session last week we noted that true, saving faith has three elements: first, there is specific content, the Latin word is notitia; second, there is mental assent to the truth of that content, the Latin word is assensus; third, we must trust in God’s way of salvation in order to be saved, which means we must trust in Jesus Christ, the Latin word is fiducia. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I want to look at the content of biblical faith, the information or notitia. It makes no sense to just say I have faith. Faith must have an object. We must believe in something or someone. With regard to salvation, we must have knowledge of the truth in order to be saved. In John 8:31-32 we read, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” [1]

Marc Roby: And many people would respond to that statement by repeating Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?”, which we read in John 18:38.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure many would respond that way. To some extent, Jesus answered the question in the verse I just read. He said “If you hold to my teaching,” so truth is found in the teaching of Jesus Christ, which is found in the Bible. This is the content of saving faith.

We discussed truth back in Sessions 68, 71 and 72 when we were examining the attributes of God and we saw that there are three different meanings for the word truth as it used in the Bible. John Frame discusses this in his book The Doctrine of God.[2] The first use of the word describes the nature of a person. So, for example, when we read in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 that Paul, Silas and Timothy had been told that the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”, the clear implication is that there are also false gods, but the God of the Bible, the Creator of heaven and earth, is the only living and true God. In other words, the only authentic God, or you could perhaps say the only real God.

Marc Roby: Well, we use the word in much the same way when we say, for example, that someone is a true genius. We are saying that there are people who are called geniuses who aren’t, but the person that we are referring to is not like them, he is an authentic genius.

Dr. Spencer: And we also use it that way as an adverb; for example, if we say that some work of art is truly magnificent. We mean it is, in fact, magnificent, we weren’t using excessive flattery. The second use of the word true refers to a property of statements. If a statement is true, it means that it corresponds to reality. The third use of the word is with regard to morality.

Marc Roby: And we pointed out in those earlier sessions that, ultimately, truth is a person. Jesus Christ said, in John 14:6, that “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Dr. Spencer: And that is certainly the case in Jesus’ statement that the truth will set us free. It is Jesus himself who has earned our salvation. All three senses of the word truth are important in this regard. Jesus is true God and true man in the sense of being both authentic, or genuine God and authentic, or genuine man. He is also completely truthful in everything he said as recorded in the Bible and, finally, he both has authority to tell us what is morally right and wrong and he is the only person to have lived a perfectly sinless life. So, as I said, we must have knowledge of the truth to be saved or, as Jesus himself put it, to be set free.

Marc Roby: And Jesus clearly meant to be set free from sin and death and eternal hell. So, we must know Christ in order to be saved. But, is there more that we must know? After all, there are many people who would claim a personal relationship with Christ but who don’t agree with the historic creeds of Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: There are, without a doubt, many such people. We must know Christ as he truly is, and the only place we find that information is in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Well, it would seem then that there is some minimal set of doctrines to which a person must agree to be a real Christian.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that it would seem so, but we must be very careful. The great 20th-century theologian J. Gresham Machen, in his book What is Faith? wrote the following: “How much, then, of the gospel, it may be asked, does a man need to accept in order that he may be saved; what, to put it baldly, are the minimum doctrinal requirements in order that a man may be a Christian?”[3]

Marc Roby: And I am excited to hear how Machen answered the question.

Dr. Spencer: Well, you are about to be disappointed then, because he doesn’t answer the question. And, in fact, he goes further. He not only said that he has never answered the question, he wrote, “Indeed it is a question which I think no human being can answer. … This is one of the things which must surely be left to God.”[4] But, he then goes on to say that churches need to be very careful in admitting members. They need to examine potential members to see whether or not they have a credible confession of faith and, he says, “To that end, it should, I think, be made much harder than it now is to enter the Church: the confession of faith that is required should be a credible confession; and if it becomes evident upon examination that a candidate has no notion of what he is doing, he should be advised to enter upon a course of instruction before he becomes a member of the Church.”[5]

Marc Roby: That seems to me to be somewhat at odds with what he said about not being able to define a minimal set of doctrines.

Dr. Spencer: I agree that it is somewhat at odds, but I don’t think he contradicts himself. He is opposed to giving a formal statement of exactly what doctrines must be believed, but he is definitely in favor of being sure that someone has a reasonable understanding of the gospel.

He wants to avoid the problem of putting down in print the absolute minimum a person must know and believe in order to be saved because, as he says, “who can presume to say whether the other man’s attitude toward Christ, which he can express but badly in words, is an attitude of saving faith or not?”[6] And, in addition, he points out that “Some men seem to devote most of their energies to the task of seeing just how little of Christian truth they can get along with.”[7]

Marc Roby: Wanting to get along with the absolute minimum for a passing grade, so to speak, would be a bad sign in terms of the truthfulness of a person’s claim to faith.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. If someone really wanted to see how little they could get away with believing, it would be sure sign the person was not born again. Born again people love Christ and want to know as much about him and his work as possible. But I think Machen is wise to refrain from giving a formal list of the minimum content of true, saving faith. His emphasis is on examining the person’s doctrine and life. A credible confession must include a changed life and some sign of love for God.

Nevertheless, I do think we can list some things that would clearly need to be part of any minimal list of necessary doctrines, and I think there is good reason for doing so since people can call themselves Christians and mean something completely at odds with biblical Christianity. It would be dangerous to the health of a church to admit such people to membership.

Marc Roby: And dangerous for the people themselves too I would add. Can you give an example?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. The best example I’ve seen is one that James Boice gives in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith, which we have used before. Let me read something he wrote because it is downright shocking, and yet it is representative of much of what goes on in the name of Christianity today. Boice wrote that “A number of years ago in a rather extended discussion about religion a young man told me that he was a Christian. As our conversation developed I discovered that he did not believe that Jesus Christ was fully divine. He said that Jesus was God’s Son, but only in the sense that we are all God’s sons. He did not believe in the resurrection.  He did not believe that Jesus died for our sin or that the New Testament contains an accurate record of his life and ministry. He did not acknowledge Christ as Lord of his life. … nevertheless he believed deep in his heart that he was a Christian.”[8]

Marc Roby: OK, that is rather shocking.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And although this may be an extreme case, in less extreme forms it is far more common than many of us would suppose. And I’m quite sure that Machen would agree that this young man was not a true Christian and should not be admitted as a member of a church. You simply cannot reject the true divinity and humanity of Christ, or the resurrection, or the Lordship of Christ and be a real Christian.

These issues were settled long before the reformation and are clearly stated, for example, in the Nicene Creed. So, while we agree that it would be unwise to try and publish an exhaustive list of so-called essential doctrines, we certainly can state some of them. And I think Machen’s reservations are valid. Someone can be brought to a true saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and yet have a very poor understanding of Christian doctrine.

Marc Roby: Well, certainly as one example, young children can have true saving faith without very detailed knowledge of doctrine.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. I like the treatment of the topic of faith in Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. He defines saving faith in the following way: “Saving faith may be defined as a certain conviction, wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, as to the truth of the gospel, and a hearty reliance (trust) on the promises of God in Christ.”[9]

Marc Roby: That definition gets around the issue of defining specific content nicely. He says that you must have a certain conviction of the truth of the gospel, but he doesn’t specify which details of the gospel message you must know and understand.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. A child may have saving faith that the gospel is true, and yet have an understanding of the gospel that would be considered extremely deficient in an adult. The primary issue really is one of trust. We trust in the truth of the gospel and we trust in the person and work of Christ.

In our session last week we said that true saving faith has three components, which are often given by their Latin names, notitia, assensus and fiducia, but can also be called information, assent and trust. This three-component view is the classic reformed view[10], but some theologians reduce it to two elements: knowledge and personal trust[11].

Marc Roby: And Berkhof’s definition certainly sounds like it has only two elements. He refers to a certain conviction of the truth of the gospel and then trust in the promises of God in Christ.

Dr. Spencer: I agree it sounds that way, although he goes on to give the familiar threefold division of reformed theology. But the two views are really the same at their core, because when theologians speak of true saving faith as consisting in just two elements, knowledge and personal trust, their idea of knowledge is information that we have agreed is true, in other words, to which we have given our assent. This is the view expressed by the Heidelberg Catechism for example in the answer to Question 21, which asks, “What is true faith?”

Marc Roby: And the answer given in the catechism is, “True faith is not only a sure knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a firm confidence which the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”[12]

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great answer. And for our purposes right now the important points are that it refers to a “sure knowledge”, which is information and assent, and a “firm confidence”, which is trust.

Berkhof goes on to examine this knowledge further. He wrote that “The knowledge of faith consists in a positive recognition of the truth, in which man accepts as true whatsoever God says in His Word, and especially what He says respecting the deep depravity of man and the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”[13]

Marc Roby: In other words, we believe the bad news that we are sinners deserving of hell and cannot save ourselves and we acknowledge the truth of the good news that Jesus Christ came to save sinners.

Dr. Spencer: Those are the two necessary points yes. As we’ve said a number of times, no one will believe the good news if they have not first believed the bad news. Who will believe in a Savior if he doesn’t see that he needs to be saved?

Marc Roby: I would have to say no one.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree. And Berkhof says more. He writes that “There must be certainty as to the reality of the object of faith; if there is not, faith is in vain.”[14]

Marc Roby: And, of course, the object of our faith is Jesus Christ. If we are not certain that he really existed and did the things the Bible says he did, and most notably, that he died on the cross for his people’s sins and then was raised from the dead, never to die again, well then our faith is in vain. In fact, we are told in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Dr. Spencer: That verse makes it clear that faith has content, it lists two things we must believe. First, it says that we must believe that God exists. And the context obviously indicates that this means we accept the Bible’s teaching about who God is. For just a few verses earlier, in Verse 3, we read, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” And second, the verse says that we must believe God rewards those who earnestly seek him. This is speaking about God’s work of redemption and his promises to men, which again we only learn about in the Bible. So, faith has content, or we could say an object, and the object of biblical faith is the person and work of Christ as told to us in God’s Word.

Marc Roby: And that is great place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments 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 M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 475

[3] J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith?, The MacMillan Comp., 1925, pg. 155

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, pp 156-157

[6] Ibid, pg. 155

[7] Ibid, pg. 159

[8] J. Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 409

[9] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 503

[10] E.g., see R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 71

[11] E.g., see Berkhof, op. cit., pg. 505

[12] G.I. Williamson, The Heidelberg Catechism, P&R Publishing, 1993, pg. 36

[13] Berkhof, op. cit., pg.503

[14] Ibid, pg. 504

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. We are in the midst of discussing conversion, or repentance and faith. We have finished discussing repentance and have noted that true repentance and faith always occur together, they are two sides of the same coin. Therefore, we are ready to move on to discuss faith. So, Dr. Spencer, how would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: By noting that faith is absolutely central to Christianity. Christianity is not a social club or a self-help program. The focus of biblical Christianity is the salvation of sinners. In other words, it is God’s plan for how hell-bound rebels can be turned into heaven-bound children of God. In Ephesians 2:8 the apostle Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”.[1]

Marc Roby: That is a very well-known verse and the most amazing gift anyone could ever imagine.

Dr. Spencer: And the verse is well known for good reason. It is extremely important. First of all, it establishes that faith is the instrumental cause of our salvation; we are saved through faith. And, secondly, it establishes that we are saved by grace. In other words, it is not something we have earned. We don’t deserve it. As Paul says, it is the gift of God.

Marc Roby: Now, what do you mean when you say that faith is the instrumental cause of our salvation?

Dr. Spencer: The idea of delineating the different causes of an event goes back to Aristotle. He spoke about four causes; the material, formal, final and efficient causes of an event.[2] If we think about some statue, maybe the Lincoln memorial for example, the material cause of the statue is the stone from which it is made. The formal cause is the plan the artist followed – in this case the likeness of President Lincoln. The final cause is the ultimate purpose for which the statue is made, in this example the purpose is to honor and remember President Lincoln. And the efficient cause is the artist himself, he is the one who turned the stone into the statue according to the plan. Now Thomas Aquinas also spoke about the instrumental cause, which in the case of our statue would be the chisels and other tools used by the artist to shape the stone.[3]

But getting back to faith, it is a tool, if you will, for accomplishing a purpose.

Marc Roby: And that purpose is the salvation of sinners as you noted earlier.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Man has a very serious fundamental problem. We are sinners, deserving of damnation, and there is absolutely nothing we can ever do in our own strength to pay for our sins and earn salvation. If we had to solve this problem on our own, it would be hopeless. We will all stand before the sovereign God in judgment someday, and he knows our every thought, word and deed. He is absolutely just and perfect and he knows all of the countless ways in which each one of us has violated his holy law. If we are judged on our own merits, we will all spend eternity in hell.

Marc Roby: But, praise God, he sovereignly chose to save a people for himself. And, as you read earlier from Ephesians 2:8, salvation is a gift given to his people by grace, through faith. Which then begs the question, what does it mean to be saved through faith? How is it the instrumental cause?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the beginning of the biblical answer is given to us in John 3:16; “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love is the ultimate cause, and he has determined that this salvation comes through faith in his eternal Son, Jesus Christ, the unique God-man.

Marc Roby: OK. That speaks about those who believe in Christ being saved, and about God’s love being the original motivation, but it doesn’t really explain how faith is the instrument. What is it that faith accomplishes?

Dr. Spencer: Faith unites us to Jesus Christ. God’s plan of salvation in a nutshell is this: Jesus Christ is the second person of the holy Trinity become man. It was man who sinned and stands guilty before God, so in God’s plan of redemption it had to be man who paid the penalty. But no mere man is capable of paying our penalty, so God became man in Jesus Christ. Christ then lived a perfect, sinless life of obedience, completely fulfilling God’s law, and then willfully gave himself as an atoning sacrifice on the cross to pay for the sins of his people.

Marc Roby: No matter how often you hear or read about God’s plan of redemption it never ceases to be amazing. The love of God is simply beyond our ability to fully comprehend or even describe.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. But to finish the basic plan of salvation, Christ paid the penalty for his people, but each individual person needs to be united to Christ in order for his payment to be placed into their account. It is faith that unites us to Christ. We are all born sinners and are represented by our first father, Adam. As we discussed in Session 106, when Adam sinned, it was as a representative for all of his posterity. So long as he remains our representative, we are damned.

But Jesus Christ is called the second Adam[4]. If we place our faith in him, he becomes our representative. Paul wrote about this in Romans 5:16-17 where we read, “The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”

Marc Roby: We see that word gift again. Only this time, the Scripture says that we are given a gift of righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: Because that is what we need in order to be saved! We are guilty sinners. We need our sins to be paid for, but that alone won’t save us. We need to be righteous in order to come into God’s presence. And, as I have said, we can’t do righteous works to earn this for ourselves. Paul wrote in Romans 3:20-21, that “no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

Marc Roby: And when Paul refers to “the Law and the Prophets”, he means the Old Testament, which were the only Scriptures available to the earliest Christians.

Dr. Spencer: He does mean the Old Testament, yes. No one is able to perfectly keep the law, and so, as Paul says, by looking at our behavior in light of God’s law we become conscious of our sin. But the Old Testament also tells us about God’s promised Messiah, who is Jesus Christ. The righteousness from God that Paul refers to is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the only person to ever perfectly keep the law. And Paul then goes on, in Verses 22-24, to say, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

This is glorious! We obtain the righteousness from God through faith. In other words, by believing in the one whom God has sent as a propitiation for our sins, we are united to him by that faith. We are no longer counted as in Adam, but we are now in Christ. There are no exceptions; we are all sinners and the only possible way to be justified is to be justified freely by God’s grace, through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: We again see that it is by God’s grace, just as we read in Ephesian 2:8, and we see that it is free, which is the same as saying it is a gift. But we also see a new term here; Paul says that we are “justified” through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And we will talk about justification in more detail in a later podcast, but we have given a brief definition before. In Session 152 we said that justification “is a legal declaration wherein God declares a sinner to be righteous in his sight”. As I said, we need righteousness to be saved, which means both that our past sins must somehow be blotted out and that we actually come to possess a positive righteousness that comes from perfect obedience. This is what Christ did to redeem us. He took our sins upon himself, paid the penalty for us, and then gave us his perfect righteousness in return.

Marc Roby: That is glorious exchange. Praise God! We have noted before that it is called the double transaction, or double imputation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, praise God indeed. We’ve quoted 2 Corinthians 5:21 a number of times because it is the very best single verse in the Bible to show this double transaction. It says, “God made him”, which is speaking about Jesus Christ, “who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” When it says that we might become the righteousness of God “in him” it means in union with him. In other words, by having him as our representative before God, rather than Adam.

Marc Roby: And that union is the result of our placing our faith in the person and redeeming work of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And that is why faith is so important. Without it, no one will ever be saved. But we must be careful to have a biblical definition of faith. The meaning of faith is the issue that divided the church at the time of the reformation and it still divides the church today. Not just protestants from Roman Catholics, but true protestant churches from false ones also. There are many churches today who call themselves protestant, or evangelical, or New Testament, or whatever, who either deny this doctrine by not believing in the true, historical, substitutionary physical death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ, or by perverting the meaning of true faith.

Marc Roby: For example, by saying that faith does not include repentance as we have already discussed.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is, perhaps, the most common way of perverting the biblical gospel today. True, saving faith necessarily implies that you accept God’s just judgment that you are a sinner deserving eternal wrath and that you can do nothing to save yourself. Therefore, you repent of all your sins, turn away from them, and in simple faith accept God’s gracious offer of salvation as a gift. No one is able to do this unless he is born again first. This is true, penitent faith. It is well expressed in the glorious old hymn Rock of Ages.

Marc Roby: Yes, let me read the second and third verses of that hymn. We read, “Not the labors of my hands can fulfil thy law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears for ever flow, all for sin could not atone; thou must save, and thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That is beautiful, and completely biblical. Nothing I can ever do is able to atone for my sin. Only Christ can do that. Therefore, I repent of all my works, which are all tainted by sin, and I cling by faith to Jesus Christ, the Fountain who is able to wash me of my sins and clothe me in his righteousness. This why John Murray speaks about true saving faith as a “penitent faith” and true godly repentance as a “believing repentance”.[6]

Marc Roby: I like those expressions; they are simple, but accurate, and they express the very important point on which we have also spent quite a bit of time.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely. And Murray expounded on this idea when he wrote, “Repentance reminds us that if the faith we profess is a faith that allows us to walk in the ways of this present evil world, in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, in the fellowship of the works of darkness, then our faith is but mockery and deception. True faith is suffused with penitence. And just as faith is not only a momentary act but an abiding attitude of trust and confidence directed to the Saviour, so repentance results in constant contrition. The broken spirit and the contrite heart are abiding marks of the believing soul.”[7]

Marc Roby: That is very good. And speaking about a broken spirit and a contrite heart does not describe much of what passes for Christianity today.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why it is so important to have a biblical understanding of the word faith. We are saved by faith alone. That is a true, biblical statement. But, as Murray said, if our faith allows us to walk “in the fellowship of the works of darkness”, it is a “mockery and deception”. Such faith is not biblical, saving faith. It will lead us straight to hell. And when he speaks of the works of darkness, that kind of language is laughed at in most modern churches, but it is very descriptive. Darkness is the absence of light. And God’s Word “is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” we are told in Psalm 119:105.

Marc Roby: Certainly when you judge things by God’s Word, our society is filled with moral darkness; sexual immorality, drunkenness, drugs, covetousness, selfishness and disregard for God’s Word and his ways are rampant.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly are. And is rare to visit a modern church and find any real reverence for God. You often feel more like you’ve walked into a coffee shop where everyone is simply gathering to have a cup of coffee, maybe a donut, and a pleasant conversation with a friend.

Marc Roby: With a little bit of uplifting music and a couple of good stories thrown in for good measure.

Dr. Spencer: Unfortunately, that’s true. But that is not real worship. God has some very harsh words for what people sometimes think of as worship. In Amos 5:21-24 God told his people, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” And the righteousness God speaks of here must, of course, be according to his Word, not our fancies.

Marc Roby: That is a severe warning. And you can see how the definition of faith is very important. A truly penitent faith, as Murray called it, will approach God with reverence and awe, you could say, biblically, with fear and trembling.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12 that we are to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling”. And that is completely consistent with Paul also telling us in Romans 8:15 that “you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” “Abba” is an Aramaic word that could perhaps be rendered “daddy”. It is an intimate term. But this is not inconsistent with a reverential fear and trembling. We need to have a penitent faith, not a presumptuous faith. Faith is not simply a human decision to “accept” Jesus. As we’ve said, true saving faith is impossible unless a person is born again.

Marc Roby: The stakes are certainly very high. I’m sure the people who came to Christ on the day of judgement crying “Lord, Lord” in Matthew 7:21 would have said that they had faith in Christ.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure they would have said that. But they were not born again and we read Christ’s terrifying answer in Matthew 7:23, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Marc Roby: Now, that makes if very clear how important it is to have a proper, biblical, penitent faith. And I look forward to hearing more about real, saving faith, but it will have to wait for next time. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our best to answer 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] The Great Ideas, A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Vol. II, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, pg.156

[3] Ibid, pg. 159

[4] See 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 and Romans 5:12-21

[5] Trinity Hymnal, Revised Edition, Great Commission Publications, 1990, #499

[6] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 113

[7] Ibid, pg. 116

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. And we are using the order presented by John Murray in his excellent book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. He gives the following order: effectual calling, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and finally, glorification.[1] In our session last week we finished regeneration, so, Dr. Spencer, I think we are ready to begin examining repentance and faith.

Dr. Spencer: We are indeed. And what a glorious topic that is. As we have discussed, when a person is born again, or regenerated, by the Holy Spirit, he or she is made into a new creation. 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!”[2] And the first thing this new creation does is to repent and believe. And that is something that we must personally do. It is our response to God’s monergistic work of regeneration.

In fact, it would be impossible for a born-again person to not repent. The man who has been regenerated sees clearly, although not yet completely, just how vile and terrible his own sin is. He is now aware of how he has offended God and the only possible response is to fall at God’s feet and cry out for mercy. Just as a man who is dying of thirst must drink, so a man who has been born again must seek God’s forgiveness. It grieves him that he has offended God, his guilt gnaws at his soul and his longing for God, who he now sees as supremely good, draws him forward.

Marc Roby: One of the most beautiful expressions of this attitude in the Bible is Psalm 51. In that psalm, King David cries out to God in repentance after God used the prophet Nathan to convict him of his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and then his having her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in order to cover it up.

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful psalm. It not only displays great sorrow for having offended God, it also demonstrates a great hope that God will be merciful in response to true repentance.

Let me read the first 8 verses. David cries out, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.”

Marc Roby: You get a great sense of the pain that David felt when he was brought to the place of seeing his sin clearly. And he understood that although he had sinned greatly against Bathsheba, her husband Uriah and even the people of his kingdom, his real problem was that he had sinned against God. And he had nothing he could plead in his defense; all he could do was to cry out for God’s mercy.

Dr. Spencer: I agree it is a wonderful psalm and I encourage our listeners to read it over carefully and apply it to their own lives. David also clearly understood that God is the only one who could take care of his sin problem. And he knew that the basis for any relief would have to be in the unfailing love and mercy of God, not in something David himself could do.

There are also a couple of much shorter, but no less poignant, expressions of true repentance given to us in the New Testament as well.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: Well, one of them is the thief on the cross. Remember that two thieves were crucified with Jesus. And initially, they both mocked him, but then God mercifully caused one of them to be born again. That thief was immediately made able to see the truth and we read in Luke 23:40-41 that he rebuked the other thief for continuing to mock Jesus. He said, “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 simple but profound confession, he saw that he deserved punishment and that Jesus did not.

Dr. Spencer: And he then went on, as we read in Luke 23:42 to cry out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He clearly saw that Jesus has an eternal kingdom that transcends this life and by faith he entrusted himself to Christ. We don’t know exactly how much this man knew about Jesus’ teaching, but he obviously knew enough.

Marc Roby: And he received what must be one of the most wonderful comforts ever given to any human being. We read in Luke 23:43 that Christ told him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Dr. Spencer: That is amazing. And that thief has been in glory for nearly 2,000 years. But there is an even shorter confession in the New Testament, which I’d like to take a little time to examine. In Luke 18 we are told the wonderful parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Marc Roby: Let me read that parable. In Luke 18:9-14 we read, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

Dr. Spencer: There is a lot of rich teaching in that parable, but notice how succinct the tax collector’s confession is. He simply said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The brevity of this confession in no way argues against the value of confessing our sins to God in detail, this man was obviously not in a position to be making a long confession. But his confession makes it clear that what is essential is a heart that has been changed. It has been changed so that it sees God in his holy majesty and it sees how our sins, even the smallest of them, are wicked rebellion against this most glorious and gracious God.

Marc Roby: We also see the tax collector’s reverence for God in the facts that he stood at a distance and wouldn’t even look up to heaven. He obviously understood that he was unworthy to come into God’s presence.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s very true and very important. In fact, as Luke indicated, Jesus told this parable to some “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else”. We must always guard against thinking that we are somehow worthy of salvation. The truth is that what we are worthy of is damnation. Salvation is a free gift offered by grace alone. If anyone thinks that he is worthy of going to heaven, then he is not saved and he is on his way to hell. God’s standard is absolutely perfect holiness, and no one outside of the God-man Jesus Christ meets that standard.

Marc Roby: Jesus himself told us in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the reality. God is perfect. He will not bring sinners to heaven to dwell with him forever without perfecting them first. And we all need serious change, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. There is no hope for any of us if we try to stand before the judgment seat of Christ on our own merits. Our sins must be atoned for. The tax collector saw this problem clearly. He saw that God is perfect in his holiness and justice and he realized that he was a rebellious sinner. That’s why he wouldn’t come close and he wouldn’t lift up his eyes to heaven.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of the very first line of John Calvin’s Institutes, Calvin wrote 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.”[3]

Dr. Spencer: That is very true. The tax collector had been born again and as a new creation he saw clearly the Creator/creature distinction. He knew he had a problem that he couldn’t possibly solve himself. James Boice in his book The Parables of Jesus points out that the beginning and ending of this simple prayer reveal the tax collector’s understanding of his problem.[4] The prayer begins simply by saying, “God”, and it ends with “me, a sinner.” There could not be a greater contrast than that.

He stood before God, albeit at a distance and with his head bowed in shame, as a guilty sinner deserving God’s wrath and unable to pay the debt himself. But he knew much more than that. In our English translation the prayer reads, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But in the Greek, the word translated here as “have mercy” is ἱλάσκομαι (hilaskomai), which means to propitiate.[5] And, as John Murray explains, “Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[6]

Marc Roby: It’s also interesting that hilaskomai is the verb form of the Greek word used for the mercy seat, or atonement cover, in the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the Old Testament in use at the time of Christ. The mercy seat was called the ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) in the Septuagint.

Dr. Spencer: Boice makes that point also, and even offers an interesting translation of the tax collector’s prayer. He correctly says that it could be rendered, albeit quite awkwardly, as “God, be mercy-seated toward me, a sinner”.[7] Now Christ had not yet died, so the tax collector still had in mind the Jewish sacrificial system, in which the high priest would go into the holy of holies once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. But the New Testament makes clear, particularly in Hebrews 9, that the entire Old Testament sacrificial system was pointing toward Christ. He alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” as John the Baptist declared in John 1:29.

And so, the tax collector’s prayer, while very short, was also very profound. He had a deep understanding of his problem and of the solution that God offers. And he came to God in true repentance for his sins and faith in the solution God offers in the gospel. And that is why Jesus said he went home “justified before God.”

Marc Roby: We will be talking about justification soon since it is the next item in the ordo salutis, but for now we should probably note that it is a legal declaration wherein God declares a sinner to be righteous in his sight.

Dr. Spencer: And we should add that the declaration is made on the basis of our being united to Christ by faith. As you said, it is a legal declaration. God is not saying that we are righteous in ourselves, that would be a lie. But, because we are united to Christ by faith, his righteousness is counted as ours. He took our sins upon himself and paid for them on the cross and, in return, he gives us his perfect righteousness. This is the double transaction, or double imputation that we have mentioned a number of times and which Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where we read that “God made him who had no sin” which, of course, refers to Jesus Christ, “to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: And that is the glory of the gospel in one verse. It doesn’t get any better than that. We give God the filth of our sins and he gives us the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is the best deal anyone could ever possibly imagine getting. But we are getting off topic a bit since we are considering conversion, or repentance and faith, today.

Marc Roby: Well, it’s not really off topic since we are united to Christ by faith.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But let’s get back to finishing what it truly means to repent. The tax collector had true repentance, but there can also be a repentance of sorts that does not lead to salvation.

Marc Roby: I assume you are referring to what Paul calls worldly sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7:10, where we read, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what I’m referring to. Often, when people say they repent of something they have done, or more likely they just say that they are sorry for something, all they really mean is that they are sorry for the circumstances it has produced. When we sin, we pay in some way. It isn’t always immediate, nor are the consequences in this life always proportional to the sin, but we do pay.

So, for example, if we look at a young man who has been lazy all through school and as a result ends up working in some menial job for minimum wage, he may say that he is sorry for not having applied himself in school, but what he really means is that he is unhappy about the fact that he can’t get a job with higher pay. In other words, he is sorry for the consequences of his sin, not the sin itself.

Marc Roby: And that kind of worldly sorrow is very common. But that is a far cry from the biblical idea of repentance.

Dr. Spencer: It is very different. True repentance would require that the young man see that his laziness was a sin against God. That God gave him the ability and the opportunity to learn and that he was being rebellious against his Creator by not applying himself. He would not just feel bad because the consequences of his sin are unpleasant, he would feel deep sorrow at having offended God and, more importantly, he would forsake his laziness and start working hard to improve himself!

Marc Roby: That’s a very important aspect of true repentance. We can’t go back and undo the past, but we can certainly work hard to not repeat the same sins in the future. In speaking about the new life a truly repentant person will live, Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:28, “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: That does illustrate the difference made by regeneration very clearly. There is a false teaching in the world that is quite common in churches and individuals that call themselves Christian. It is the idea that Jesus can be your Savior without being your Lord. In other words, you don’t have to repent and forsake your sins, you just have to acknowledge Jesus as Savior.

Now, we must agree that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. No one will ever be saved because he repented and forsook his sins. Our repentance is not the cause of our salvation, nor is our faith a cause of our salvation. They are the response of someone who has been born again. And you cannot have true faith without true repentance. They are inextricably linked together.

Marc Roby: And why is that?

Dr. Spencer: Because true conversion is the result of regeneration, which causes us to see that our own best works are like filthy rags in God’s sight. It causes us to realize that we can do nothing to save ourselves and that we have offended the holy God. We see our own sin as odious and we see Christ as glorious and wonderful and we naturally turn away from our sin with great disgust and turn to Christ in joyful, loving faith. We cannot turn to Christ and lay hold of him as Savior without simultaneously letting go of our sin and turning from it. It is an impossibility. In 1 John 3:9 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.”

Marc Roby: I look forward to your completing that biblical case to support the contention that repentance and faith are linked together, but we don’t have much time left for today, so this is a good place to stop. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer you.

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 87

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

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, 1.1.1 (pg. 4)

[4] James Boice, The Parables of Jesus, Moddy Press, 1983, pp 83-91

[5] E.g., see Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 404, or Walter Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 375

[6] Murray, op. cit., pg. 30

[7] Boice, op. cit., pg. 90

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. In our session last week we were discussing regeneration, or new birth, and we made the points that it is a sovereign, monergistic, irresistible work of God. He causes us to realize that we are sinners in need of salvation and then enables us to respond to the gospel offer with repentance and faith. So, Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to say a little more about the idea we introduced at the end of our previous session; namely, that the Puritans referred to the Word of God as the instrumental cause of regeneration. We had discussed at length the fact that when Christ told Nicodemus you must be born of water and the Spirit, the water referred to purification, and the Word of God is used by the Spirit to bring purification. It teaches us that we are sinners in need of a Savior.

Marc Roby: And what else do you want to say about that now?

Dr. Spencer: Well, if you think about this for a few minutes you will realize that this view is inconsistent with the definition we have been using for regeneration. I noted before that we don’t want to get hung up on terminology, but we have been viewing regeneration, as many modern theologians do, as an instantaneous and immediate work of God in the heart of man, which makes him a new creation. John Murray clearly states how this definition is inconsistent with the Puritan view. He wrote, “If regeneration is an immediate act of creative power it cannot be said to be wrought through the instrumentality of the Word of God in the sense of the gospel.”[1] And this is because the Word of God is addressed to our minds, but if regeneration is an immediate work of God, our minds have nothing to do with it. It is something God does to us.

Marc Roby: How then does Murray explain the Scriptures we examined; for example, 1 Peter 1:23, which says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” [2]

Dr. Spencer: The answer is actually quite simple. Murray points out that, “It must be that regeneration is used in two distinct senses in the New Testament: (1) in the restricted sense of recreative action on the part of God in which there is no intrusion in contribution of agency on our part; (2) in a more inclusive sense, that is to say, a sense broad enough to include the saving response and activity of our consciousness, a saving activity which is always through the Word of the truth of the gospel. In this sense it is virtually synonymous with the word conversion.”[3]

Marc Roby: And, of course, that term conversion refers to repentance and faith, which is the response of a born-again person to the gospel.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. I had mentioned in Session 149 that theologians used to think of the effectual call and regeneration as synonymous, or they thought of regeneration as part of the effectual call. When we speak about the Word of God being an instrumental cause, we are, I think speaking about what should more properly be termed the effectual call, rather than regeneration itself.

The important thing to realize here is that when you look at the Biblical data, things are sometimes combined. It is difficult to completely separate out at all times God’s calling, regeneration and our response in repentance and faith, or conversion. Nevertheless, it is absolutely essential to recognize the miraculous and gracious work that God must do to give us new hearts and enable us to respond to the gospel call. Without that monergistic, sovereign work of God, our response is guaranteed to be a rejection of God’s offer and a suppression of the truth.

Marc Roby: Yes, Paul makes this very clear in Romans Chapters 1 through 3.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he does. The bottom line is that the exact means by which God brings about our new birth is not explained to us and I suspect we wouldn’t be able to understand it anyway. It is not a metaphysical change, in other words, it is not a change to the nature of our being. The fall didn’t change the essence of man’s being, he is still a rational and moral creature made in the image of God.[4] Rather, sin brought about an ethical change; man became an enemy of God.

Marc Roby: And so, regeneration is also an ethical change, which is why the Bible speaks about God giving us a new heart.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. There is no physical measurement that you could make to determine whether or not someone has been born again. God’s ways are often inscrutable. But there is value in recognizing that, whatever terminology we use, God draws us to himself, which almost always involves both particular circumstances in our lives and our hearing the gospel, and then God also regenerates us, which enables us to respond positively to this gospel call in repentance and faith. The details of this process vary from person to person, but in every single case three elements are included: first, the presentation of the gospel message; second, God’s sovereign, monergistic work of regeneration; and third, the voluntary response of the person in repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: Very well. What else would you like to say about regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: I want to emphasize what a radical change regeneration brings about. This is especially important today because so many churches have watered down what it means to be a Christian and are leading people on the broad way to hell by telling them that they are saved when they aren’t.

Marc Roby: We’ve read the frightening warning that Jesus Christ gives us in Matthew 7 before. In Verses 21 through 23 he said, “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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Dr. Spencer: That is a terrifying warning, and it is meant to be. If you think about the situation from Satan’s perspective for moment …

Marc Roby: Now wait a minute, that doesn’t sound good. I don’t want to think like Satan does.

Dr. Spencer: True enough, but we need to understand our enemy in order to defeat him. In any event, if you think about this from Satan’s perspective, you realize that the place he would most like to see people is sitting in the pews of a church every Sunday morning, believing in their hearts that they are worshipping God and on their way to heaven, when in fact they are on the broad way that leads straight to hell.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. That would make Satan’s job very easy. Thinking you are already saved is a great inoculation against hearing the gospel call.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. And Paul warned the church in Corinth about false preachers. They had infiltrated the church after Paul established it and in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 he writes about these false ministers. He says, “such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”

We have to realize that false teaching does not usually come in a form that makes it blatantly obvious. False preachers are very often smooth, they speak well, they smile, they appear to be kind and loving, they quote the Bible and have degrees and, as we read in the passage from Matthew 7, they may even appear to prophecy, to drive out demons and to perform miracles in the name of Jesus.

Marc Roby: And so how are people to recognize these false preachers?

Dr. Spencer: By knowing the Word of God and recognizing that these false teachers are perverting it. You learn how to detect counterfeit money, in part, by becoming intimately familiar with the genuine article and the same is true for false teaching about God. You must know the truth in order to recognize error.

And by far the most common perversion of the gospel in our day and age is a so-called seeker friendly easy believism.  It is a different gospel that says you can have Jesus Christ as your Savior without his being your Lord. It tells you that if you just admit you are sinner and pray a prayer you will be saved, and you don’t have to forsake your sins. You don’t have to do battle with your old nature. It says that obedience is optional. It says that you simply decide to accept Jesus. This is sometimes called decisional salvation.

But think about that carefully for a moment. If every person is able to simply decide whether or not to accept Jesus, then there is no internal change necessary and without radical internal change, no radical change in behavior is possible. There may be some self-generated moral reformation, but nothing radical. We will not be new creations. We will not be obedient. We will not be fundamentally any different than the world and we will be rejected by Christ.

Marc Roby: We must admit however, that we do have to make a decision in order to become a Christian.

Dr. Spencer: Well of course we do. But it is a decision which an unbeliever cannot make until and unless God has regenerated him. As Christ said in John 3:3 and 5, you must be born again to see or enter the kingdom of God. In Ephesians 2:1-5 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. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Now, listen to that politically-incorrect language! We were all by nature objects of wrath, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature. We were dead in our transgressions and sins. But then, praise God, listen to the language of the true gospel message. God, because of his great love for us, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead! No dead person ever decides to follow the true and living God, he must be made alive first.

Marc Roby: You were certainly right to call Paul’s language politically incorrect.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely is, but it is the truth. And we need to see how radical regeneration is. Regenerate people have been given a new heart and a new Spirit as we read in Ezekiel 36:26, they have gone from being dead to being alive as we just saw in Ephesians 2, they have come from darkness to light Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:8, and they have been translated from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God as we can see from Ephesians 2:2 combined with Colossians 1:13, they are new creations Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

New birth is not a result of some decision that we make, it is something done to us by God and is the cause of a radical and pervasive change in our being, which is nothing less than a new creation. And then the first work of obedience done by that new creation is to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: I’m glad you included Verse 10 because many people leave it out. They like to hear that we are saved through faith and not by works because they think that means all they have to do is pray the sinner’s prayer. But Verse 10 makes it clear that that isn’t the case. We are God’s workmanship, in other words he has done a mighty work of transformation in all true Christians, and we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works! If we don’t have any good works, we are not God’s workmanship and we have not been born again. Our good works do not in any way earn our salvation, but if we don’t have any, then we have not been born again and any claim we make to being Christians is simply not true. We will be like the people in Matthew 7, saying “Lord, Lord” only to hear Jesus tell us to depart because he never knew us.

Marc Roby: Of course many liberal churches do help with feeding the poor and so on and they would point to those as good works.

Dr. Spencer: And those certainly can be good works. But they can also be done with wrong motives, arrogantly thinking that I am doing something wonderful and earning some reward from God, or simply being focused on being a “good person” and “making this world a better place” rather than living for the glory of God. Good works begin in the heart, by recognizing our need to put our sins to death and recognizing the Creator/creature distinction; we are just creatures, wholly dependent on God. Truly good works must be done for God’s glory, whether we are helping feed the poor or just doing our normal jobs.

Good works require complete submission to the will of God. That means living in accordance with his Word. And his Word says that we are to work six days a week, that we are to honor the Sabbath, that we are to be honest and hard working, that we should not be in debt, that sex is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman, that we shouldn’t get drunk and so on.

Marc Roby: To some that sounds like a lot of rules.

Dr. Spencer: Well, people often try to dismiss any mention of holy living as mere rule keeping, or even call it being legalistic. But they should read the sermon on the mount. It was Jesus Christ himself who said, in Matthew 5:20, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” And he went on to say, in Verse 22, that “anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” And then, in Verse 28 he said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And in Verse 32 we read that Jesus said, “anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” And he goes on and on.

You can view this as just a set of rules if you like, but Jesus is explaining the true meaning of the Ten Commandments, which are still applicable to Christians. They are a summary of God’s unchanging holy law and a transcript of his unchanging character. And we are told many times in the New Testament that if we love God we will obey his commands.

Marc Roby: That’s not a popular idea today.

Dr. Spencer: And that’s why it is so important for us to bring it up! Jesus said, in Luke 16:15, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” We must abide by God’s standards, not the standards of this world. And God’s standards are very, very different than those of the world we live in.

New birth brings us into God’s kingdom and gives us an entirely new set of priorities. We are given an eternal perspective so that we are not looking for a reward in this life. In fact, we know that we will have serious troubles in this life.

Marc Roby: Jesus said, as we read in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And Paul wrote in Philippians 1:29, “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, talk about something that is unpopular! The true gospel promises us trouble in this life, but a great reward in the next. The health, wealth and prosperity movement, also called the Word of Faith movement, is a wicked sham. Jesus does care for all of his people and he does want what is best for them, but he wants what is truly best for them now and eternally, not what is most pleasurable in this short life. That is why the apostle Paul wrote, in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” And, in 1 Peter 4:13 he told us to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” He also wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:17, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Marc Roby: Now that is not the message that the Word of Faith preachers deliver.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. They deliver a message of “hope” for pleasure in this life, but it is an empty, false hope even for this life and it is an eternal death sentence. Regenerate people want to know and do God’s will for his glory. And when you look to Christ you see the supreme example of what that can mean in this life. As he prayed the night before his crucifixion, we read in Matthew 26:39 that he said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And we know what the Father’s will was. It was for Jesus to drink the cup of God’s wrath to the full on the cross, bearing the penalty that we deserved, so that we might be saved.

And while none of us are called to suffer as Christ did, we do nonetheless have many trials and troubles in this life. We trust, as Jesus did, that there is a good purpose in them, that they will all redound to God’s greater glory and that they cannot be compared with the great glory and joy that will be ours throughout eternity if we persevere to the end of this life.

Marc Roby: And all true Christians look forward to that eternal glory.  Are we done with the topic of regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: We are for now, but I’d like to close with one more quote from Murray. He wrote, “If it were not the case that in regeneration we are passive, the subjects of an action of which God alone is the agent, there would be no gospel at all. For unless God by sovereign, operative grace had turned our enmity to love and our disbelief to faith we would never yield the response of faith and love.”[5]

Marc Roby: That is a perfect place to end for today.  So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

[1] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 196

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

[3] Murray, op. cit., pg. 197

[4] E.g., see Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed, P&R Publishing, 2008, pg. 289

[5] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 100

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Marc Roby: Well then, we are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. We have been speaking about the first item in this order, the effectual call. Dr. Spencer, what else would you like to say about this call?

Dr. Spencer: I want to read a quote from John Murray. He wrote that “The sovereignty and efficacy of the call do not relax human responsibility but rather ground and confirm that responsibility. The magnitude of the grace enhances the obligation.”[1] In other words, those who think that the fact that God is sovereign in election, calling and regeneration somehow negates human responsibility are wrong. The reality is that the sheer magnitude of the grace involved in God’s having chosen, called and regenerated us increases our obligation to obey. And this obligation to obey does not end with our repentance and faith.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Ephesians 4:1, where the apostle Paul wrote, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a very challenging statement. Who can be worthy of such a calling? This new life begins with repentance and faith, but the obedience is to continue throughout all of life and beyond.

Murray also points out that this calling is a high, holy and heavenly calling,[3] which is a biblical statement. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:14, “I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” I’ve quoted from the American Standard Version here because it uses the phrase “high calling”, which is also used in the King James Version that Murray was referring to. And we see that the calling is holy by looking at what Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:8-9, “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life”. And, finally, we see that it is a heavenly calling in Hebrews 3:1, where we are told, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”

Marc Roby: Well, the fact that this is a high, holy and heavenly calling makes Paul’s admonition to live a life worthy of this calling even more challenging.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly does. No one can live the Christian life in his or her own strength. The Christian life is impossible to live unless you are empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote in Romans 8:14 that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” And, as the Rev. P.G. Mathew points out in his commentary on Romans, the original Greek for this verse is better translated as, “For those who are being led by the Spirit of God, they and they alone are the sons of God.”[4]

Marc Roby: And praise God for the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Dr. Spencer: Praise God indeed. As I said, no one could possibly live the Christian life without the Spirit.

Marc Roby: And so, are we ready to move on to examine the next item on the order of salvation?

Dr. Spencer: We are.

Marc Roby: Very well. The next item in the order is regeneration.

Dr. Spencer: And because of the intimate connection between the effectual call and regeneration we have already mentioned regeneration a number of times while looking at the effectual call. In speaking of regeneration itself, Murray wrote that “God effects a change which is radical and all-pervasive, a change which cannot be explained in terms of any combination, permutation, or accumulation of human resources, a change which is nothing less than a new creation”.[5]

In a similar vein, the great Puritan theologian Stephen Charnock wrote that regeneration “is a universal change of the whole man. It is a new creature, not only a new power or new faculty. This … extends to every part … [It] is as large in renewing as sin was in defacing.”[6]

Marc Roby: And that immediately makes me think of 2 Corinthians 5:17, where Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Dr. Spencer: And that new creation starts with new birth, or regeneration. We are entirely passive in our new birth, just as we were in our physical birth. We play no determining role in our conception, gestation or birth. We are the passive object. And it is the same with God’s election, calling and new birth.

Marc Roby: I’m always amazed when someone misses the obvious importance of the metaphor Jesus used. In speaking about our need to be born again Jesus was quite clearly indicating that we play no active role.

Dr. Spencer: That clearly was his point. So I want to take a few minutes to look at the verses where Jesus tells us about the new birth. In John 3:3 and 5, Jesus says to Nicodemus, beginning with Verse 3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And then in Verse 5 he said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” The question I want to address is, “What did Jesus mean when he said we must be “born of water and the Spirit”?

Marc Roby: Well, there is fairly widespread agreement that being born of the Spirit refers to new birth, which is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit as you said before.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But there have been differences of opinion about what is meant by being born of water. Some take that to refer to either natural human birth or baptism, but I think those views are almost certainly wrong.

Marc Roby: What do you think it refers to?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let me quote from John Murray again because I think his analysis of this verse is clear and correct. He wrote that “Jesus did not say baptism; he says water. … Now what religious idea would we expect to be conveyed to the mind of Nicodemus by the use of the word “water”? Of course, the idea associated with the religious use of water in that religious tradition and practice which provided the very context of Nicodemus’ life and profession. … the religiously symbolic meaning of water, pointed in one direction, and that direction is purification. All the relevant considerations would conspire to convey to Nicodemus that message.”[7]

Marc Roby: It makes good sense, and is exegetically sound, to say that if we want to understand what Jesus meant, we must take into account that he was speaking to a particular person and that person had a specific background and life experience. In the case of Nicodemus, we are told in John 3:1 that he was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council.

Dr. Spencer: And given that background, I think that Murray’s analysis is obviously correct. Nicodemus would never have thought of natural birth or Christian baptism, which hadn’t been instituted yet anyway. He would have thought of the Jewish ritual of purification. Wayne Grudem makes the same argument in his Systematic Theology.[8]

Marc Roby: We should probably provide a bit of background and point out that at the time of Jesus, the idea of bathing in water had great symbolic significance in terms of moral cleansing.[9] And this significance goes way back in the Old Testament.

We even see it directly linked with the Old Testament prophecy about being given a new heart. In Ezekiel 36:25-26 we read 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.”

Dr. Spencer: That background is very relevant. There are a number of places in modern Israel, like Qumran and Masada, where you can still see the ancient pools used for ceremonial washings.[10] The mention of water would almost certainly have conveyed that meaning to Nicodemus. Murray then goes on to say that “The characteristic sin of the pharisees was self-complacency and self-righteousness. What they needed was to be convinced of their own pollution and the need of radical purification. It is this lesson that the expression ‘born of water’ would have conveyed most effectively.”[11]

Marc Roby: That is a strong argument. And it reminds me of what Paul wrote to Titus, where he also associated washing and new birth with each other. In Titus 3:4-5 we read, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”.

Dr. Spencer: That does solidify the connection. We can also look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Notice that we are to cleanse our wives by “washing with water through the word”. This is clearly speaking about moral, not physical, cleansing, and it again uses this metaphor of water, but it connects it with the Word of God. The Word of God is this cleansing “water”.

Christ himself also linked the Word with cleansing. In John 15:3 we read that he told his disciples, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The Word of God shows us that we are sinners in need of a Savior. And it then reveals Jesus Christ to us as the only Savior. We need this information to be saved. The Word then shows us how we can live in a way that pleases God.

Marc Roby: The role of the Word of God in bringing about new birth is also explicitly mentioned by Peter. In 1 Peter 1:23 we read, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great verse. And I think that when you look at all that we have said, it is clear that when Jesus told Nicodemus that “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit”, he was making the point that we need to be cleansed of our sins and the “water” that accomplishes that cleansing is the Word of God applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Murray wrote, “Regeneration must negate the past as well as reconstitute for the future. It must cleanse from sin as well as recreate in righteousness.”[12]

Marc Roby: Very well, what else would you like to say about regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: That it is a completely sovereign work of God, primarily God the Holy Spirit. Theologians say it is a monergistic work of God, simply meaning that God alone is active in it. After telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, Jesus went on to say, in John 3:8, that “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Marc Roby: I find it interesting that in the original Greek, the word translated in this verse as “wind” is πνεῦμα (pneuma), which is the same word translated as Spirit in the earlier verses.

Dr. Spencer: That is interesting, and I’m sure the double meaning was not lost on Nicodemus, but it is clear from the context that the translation here is correct. In any event, Murray points out the significance of this statement. He wrote, “The wind is not at our beck and call; neither is the regenerative operation of the Spirit. … the Spirit’s work is mysterious. [This] All points up the sovereignty, efficacy, and inscrutability of the Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration.”[13]

Marc Roby: But you mentioned in our last session that the Father is also involved in the work of regeneration.

Dr. Spencer: I did, and I said that based on the Scriptural evidence. For example, in Ephesians 2:4-5 we read that “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Now the sentence clearly speaks of God and Christ as two distinct persons, which tells us that God in this verse refers to God the Father as is common in the New Testament. So the verse says that God the Father made us alive when we were dead in transgressions, which is a clear reference to regeneration. Paul says almost exactly the same thing again in Colossians 2:13, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.”

Marc Roby: Those are clear statements that the Father is involved.

Dr. Spencer: And Wayne Grudem uses them, along with others, to support his conclusion that “both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit bring about regeneration.”[14] Now I think it is still clear that the Holy Spirit is the primary agent in our regeneration, but these verses show that the Father is involved as well.

Marc Roby: What else would you like to say about regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: That the Word of God is used in bringing it about; as we have discussed, we must be born of water and the Spirit, and the cleansing water is the Word of God. You could, perhaps even should, consider this to be part of the effectual call, rather than regeneration proper, but it bears pointing out that the Puritans referred to the Word of God as the instrumental cause of regeneration, meaning that the Word is the instrument used to bring it about.[15] We see this, for example, in James 1:18, which says that the Father “chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” We also see this in 1 Peter 1:23, where we read, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” And finally, let me quote from the apostle Paul. He wrote, in Romans 10:17, that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

Marc Roby: And that makes sense since the Word of God is where we learn of both our need for a Savior and God’s provision of a Savior in Jesus Christ. Regeneration is what makes us able to respond to the gospel offer with repentance and faith, but the response could not occur without knowing about our need and the offer.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, the Word of God is essential for salvation. We also need to remember that the gospel offer will not be refused by anyone who has been regenerated. We spoke about the doctrine of irresistible grace in Sessions 130 and 131, but it good to remember that when God changes our nature, our positive response to the gospel call is made certain.

We see this clearly in Romans Chapter 9. After Paul has explained God’s sovereign election of some people to be saved, he then anticipates an objection that will come from sinful men and writes, in Romans 9:19, “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’” This objection would make no sense if Paul were not teaching that God is absolutely sovereign over our salvation. But, as we have said before, he doesn’t force anyone to accept or reject the gospel. Unregenerate people will always, without exception, willingly reject the gospel and regenerate people will always, without exception, willingly accept the gospel.

Marc Roby: Are we finished with the topic of regeneration?

Dr. Spencer: Not yet.

Marc Roby: Well, we are, however, out of time for today, so we’ll have to finish this up next time. Therefore, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we’ll do our best to answer you.

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 92

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

[3] Murray, op. cit., pg. 91

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 536

[5] Murray, op. cit., pg. 96

[6] Quoted in Beeke, Joel R. & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 474

[7] Murray, op. cit., pg. 97

[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, see footnote 7 on pg. 702

[9] E.g., see The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (in five volumes), Zondervan, 1976, Vol. 4, pg. 957 entry on Purification, and pg. 958 in entry on Purity, 1b. Water

[10] Ibid, Vol. 1, pg. 490 in entry on Bath

[11] Murray, op. cit., pg. 97

[12] Ibid, pg. 98

[13] Ibid, pg. 99

[14] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 700

[15] Beeke & Jones, op. cit., pg. 473

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Today, we are resuming our study of systematic theology by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. In our last theology session, which was Session 144, we presented the order of salvation, or ordo salutis, as given by John Murray. He lists the elements in the following order: effectual call, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. We then started to examine the effectual call, by which God’s elect are brought into his kingdom.

Today I want to say a few more things about the effectual call and use them as a segue into our discussion of regeneration. We noted in Session 144 that the effectual call and regeneration are intimately linked and that in the past some theologians have treated them as being synonymous, or have thought of regeneration as a part of the effectual call.

And, while we want to be as precise in our theology as we can be, I don’t think there is any benefit in getting too hung up on the exact terminology that is used. We just want to be careful to define what we mean by the terms we use and, more importantly, to present the clear biblical teaching on the subject.

I personally have a hard time seeing how you can fully separate effectual calling and regeneration since the power that makes the call effectual is God’s power to regenerate us. In fact, in Session 144 I deliberately avoided talking about a difference between what the Westminster Shorter Catechism said and what John Murray said.

One of the questions we looked at from the Catechism was Question 31, and the answer given there is, “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.” Notice that the answer began by saying that “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit”.

Whereas, in the following discussion we presented biblical support for Murray’s view that “God the Father [] is the specific agent in the effectual call”.[1] For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:9 we read, “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”[2] That verse clearly distinguishes God from his Son, meaning that, as is often the case in the New Testament, God refers to the Father. And then the verse explicitly says that it is the Father who calls his people into fellowship.

And so we have a difference in the sense that the Catechism says the effectual call is a work of the Holy Spirit, while Murray says that the Father is the specific agent in calling his people. We presented Murray’s view because it agrees with the Bible, as the verses we examined bear out. Wayne Grudem also agrees with this view and provides further scriptural support in his Systematic Theology.[3] One reason I think it is important to be clear that the Father calls us is to oppose the unbiblical idea that the Father is a distant, angry God who doesn’t want to save anyone but somehow gets convinced by the pleadings of his Son, who is thought of as being more merciful and loving. Which is, unfortunately, a trap into which some of modern evangelicalism falls. And that’s why this issue is important. We must always remember that there is only one God, who exists in three persons, and that God is unchangeable. The common idea that God is somehow different in the Old and New Testaments is completely unbiblical.

But we must also remember that God is triune and the different persons of the godhead are clearly presented to us in the Bible as having different roles in salvation. We honor God and worship him correctly when we believe, pray and worship with these biblical distinctions properly kept in mind. So, that leaves us with the question of how to resolve this difference between the Catechism and Murray and Grudem.

Let me make two important points before we deal with this difference though. First, it isn’t absolutely necessary for us to resolve the difference. Neither the Catechism nor Murray nor Grudem are inspired; only the Bible is the inspired Word of God. So if theologians disagree with each other our duty is simply to determine who is correctly interpreting the Bible. We don’t need to find a way to reconcile them. And then, secondly, this is far from an essential issue in the faith.

But, with that said, in my mind I resolve the issue by realizing that the call is made effectual by regeneration, which is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. And so both Murray and the Catechism are right, they are just using slightly different definitions of the phrase effectual calling.

The fact that regeneration, or new birth, is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit is seen explicitly in Jesus’ statements to Nicodemus. We read in John 3:5-6, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” According to this statement by Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit that gives new birth, in other words, that regenerates believers.

Therefore, the biblical answer, which is the one that matters, is that the Father is the specific agent in calling, as Murray said, and the Holy Spirit is the primary agent in regeneration, which we will see later Murray also says. Therefore, when Murray criticizes the Catechism for not saying the Father is the agent in the effectual call, he has a point, although I think a minor one.[4] The Catechism does not separate the effectual call from regeneration as Murray and most modern theologians do. And, I should add, that the Bible itself never uses the phrase “effectual call”, it simply speaks about a call.

As we noted in Session 144, some theologians have considered regeneration to be a part of the effectual call, or have considered the two to be essentially synonymous. And that is the case with the Westminster standards, by which I mean the Westminster Confession, the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism all together. The Confession doesn’t have a separate chapter on regeneration, that topic is covered by the chapter on the effectual call.[5]

I would say the biblical testimony supports the idea that the Father is the specific agent in the call, and the Holy Spirit is the primary, but not sole, agent in regeneration, which is what makes the call effectual. I should mention that the Father is also presented as being active in regeneration, but I will hold off on saying more about that until later, the primary agent is clearly the Holy Spirit.

We always want to be careful to not go too far and make distinctions that are not made in the Bible itself. The bottom line is that the same sermon can be given to two people and for one of them it is only the general call and does not lead to salvation, while for the other it is accompanied by the Spirit’s regenerating work and leads to conversion and salvation. In that case we could say that it was the effectual call. The difference is found in whether or not God works in the heart of the person who hears the gospel.

We need to remember what Paul said. He wrote to the church in Corinth about preaching the Word of God in Troas and said that through his preaching God was spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. Then, in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 he wrote, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”

These statements by Paul make clear what the difference is between the general call and the effectual call. It is the power of God that makes the call efficacious in some and not in others.

We also need to realize that God’s effectual call cannot be ignored. As the name “effectual” clearly states, we cannot refuse this call. Just as no one can accept God’s offer of salvation unless he causes the person to be born again, so also no one whom God has chosen to save can possibly reject this call. Jesus himself said, as we read in John 6:44, that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

We have spoken about this verse several times before and pointed out that the Greek word translated as “draws” is ἑλκύω (helkuō), which could also be rendered as drag. In fact, the same word is used in Acts 16:9 where we read that Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace, and it is used 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. Therefore, John 6:44 argues persuasively that when God draws people, he does so in such a way that their response is certain.

And the way that he does that is through new birth, or regeneration. When we are born again, our nature is changed. In that new nature we are enabled to see the wretchedness of our sin and the loveliness of Christ. We are able to appreciate the graciousness of God’s offer of salvation and, as a result, we freely make the choice to repent and believe. So, it would not be biblical to say that God forces us to repent and believe, we do that willingly. But he does change our nature in such a way that it absolutely guarantees we will freely respond to his call with repentance and faith. That is why the call is effectual.

We could say that God does not force us to do something we don’t want to do, but he does change us in such a way that we want to do what he wants us to do. Or we could say that he does not force us, which by definition implies doing something against our will, but rather, he changes our fundamental nature so that our will is different and we willingly do what he desires.

In Romans 4:17 Paul wrote about Abraham and said, “He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” God takes sinners, who are dead in their transgressions and sins as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1 and makes them alive in Jesus Christ. He calls things that are not as though they are. He gives us new hearts as we read in Ezekiel 36:26. We’ve gone over this before so I don’t want to repeat too much, but the point is that we must, as Jesus told Nicodemus in John Chapter 3 Verses 3 and 5, be born again in order to be saved. And more to the point in our present discussion, once we have been born again, we are absolutely certain to respond favorably to God’s call to repent and believe.

And this call is a command, not just an offer. In Acts 17:30 we read that “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” And John wrote, in 1 John 3:23 that this is God’s command, “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” But, in our natural state we cannot obey God’s commands to repent and believe. Paul wrote in Romans 8:7 that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”

Nevertheless, the effectual call comes with power and is guaranteed to enable us to obey by repenting and believing. And this is God’s purpose as we read in Romans 8:28-30. In Verse 28 we are told, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And then Verses 29-30 go on to tell us what that purpose is. We read, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

What a glorious and gracious purpose! God’s purpose is nothing less than the complete salvation of his people. He has predestined a certain group of people from eternity past to be called, justified and glorified in his sight.

And to be glorified, as we will see in a later session, means that we will be made perfectly sinless and will be given an imperishable body fit for living in heaven with God and each other for all eternity.

The effectual call also has specific content. While God can certainly work in people’s lives in many different ways to draw them to Christ, at some point the gospel must be presented to them and the normal way for that to happen is for another human being to present it.

Paul tells us this explicitly in Romans 10:13-14, where we read that “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

There is specific information that must be known for a person to be saved. Wayne Grudem does a good job of discussing this fact and he lists three elements that must be present in the gospel call: first, an explanation of the facts concerning salvation, second, an invitation to personally respond to these facts in repentance and faith, and third, God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life.[6]

With regard to the facts concerning salvation, Grudem first says that all people have sinned. And Paul tells us this clearly in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Second, we must tell people that the penalty we owe because of our sin is eternal death. Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death”, and in Matthew 25:46 Christ told us that the unsaved “will go away to eternal punishment”. These two points together comprise the bad news that we are all sinners deserving God’s wrath.

The third point Grudem mentions is the good news that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins. In Romans 5:8 Paul wrote that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is absolutely incomprehensible love, especially when you consider that Christ died for people who were his enemies.

And then, after presenting these basic facts, Grudem’s second element is obviously necessary. We must call on people to personally repent of their sins and place their trust in Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice. And his third element must also be there; we must tell people of God’s promise that if they will repent and believe they will be saved from eternal hell and will instead go to heaven based on the merits of Christ.

I can’t imagine a better promise than that. And with that, we are out of time for today. So, let me remind you that you can email your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our best to answer you.

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 89

[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. 692

[4] He does not explicitly criticize it in Redemption Accomplished and Applied, but he does on pg. 165 of his Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977

[5] Note: The effectual call and regeneration are separate topics in in Murray’s book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Later in his career however, he changed his mind about whether or not the topic of the call should be defined in any way by the response it elicits from the believer. See his Chapters on The Call and Regeneration in Vol. Two of his Collected Writings, especially footnote 2 on pg. 167. On page 172 of his Collected Writings, in the chapter on regeneration, which represents his older view, he wrote, “God’s call is an efficacious summons and therefore carries with it, carries as it were in its bosom, the grace that ensures the requisite response on the part of the subject.” It is unclear to me exactly how this grace is related to regeneration itself, they do not appear to be synonymous. So, perhaps, it is this grace that in Murray’s view makes the call efficacious and yet distinguished from regeneration itself? I’m not sure.

[6] Grudem, op. cit., pp 694-695

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You’re listening to What Does the Word Say, a series of podcasts on biblical theology produced by Grace and Glory Media, and I’m Dr. Spencer. Our usual host Mr. Roby is not with me today because we are both still obeying the stay-at-home order issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And we are also still taking a break from our continuing series on systematic theology.

Last week I discussed how to think biblically. The first requirement is that you be born again because at the core of every single person’s worldview you either find saving faith in the God of the Bible, or you don’t. There is no third position. And this core presupposition affects how you think about everything.

But even if you have been born again, you still need to put effort into learning how to think biblically. It is all too easy to fall back on our old nature and/or to be heavily influenced in our thinking by the sea of unbiblical ideas in which we all swim on a daily basis. And so, today I want to examine how we can make our calling and election sure. And then, next time, we will look at some examples of proper biblical thinking in order to help us develop our own thinking. These examples should also provide great motivation for us because we will see the power that comes from thinking in the way God wants us to think.

So, let’s begin by examining how to make our calling and election sure, which is a command, not a suggestion. We read in 2 Peter 1:10-11, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”[1] The Greek verb translated here as “be all the more eager” is in the imperative mood, meaning that this is a command from God, through the apostle Peter. The verb means to be zealous, earnest and diligent in pursuing something. In other words, this is important. It is not something about which we should be careless. It is, in fact, the most important thing to know about ourselves because our calling and election determine whether we are headed for eternal heaven or eternal hell.

But you may be asking yourself, “How am I supposed to make my calling and election sure? God doesn’t tell us in the Bible who is and is not chosen. I can’t pry into the eternal counsels of God to know whether or not I am an elect.” I would answer that objection by first saying that it is true in the sense that we cannot examine God’s election directly. We can, however, examine it indirectly by looking for the fruit that is guaranteed to be produced. Jesus said, in Luke 6:43-44, that “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.” His point is clear; although we can’t directly examine God’s election, we can examine our lives to see whether or not they display the fruit of someone who has been born again. In 2 Peter 1:10, it said “if you do these things you will never fall” and “these things” refers back to the qualities noted in Verses 5 through 7; namely, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. So we must look for these Christian traits increasing in our lives.

And even though being commanded to do something doesn’t always imply that we can succeed – for example, think of the command to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect – nevertheless, in this context it seems quite clear that Peter fully expects that we can, in fact, make our calling and election sure. This is not an impossible task, and it is a very important one.

There are some who think it is impossible to have a genuine assurance of salvation. Certainly Arminians, Catholics and others who think that you can lose your salvation cannot be assured of their final salvation for they believe it is always possible to sin so grievously as to lose it. And while we do not agree that a true Christian can ever lose his salvation, we must admit that there is a real possibility of having a false assurance. You should not feel secure that you are saved just because you once prayed a prayer and were baptized.

Nevertheless, the biblical command stands and examining ourselves for the sake of making our calling and election sure is an important activity. There are certainly degrees of assurance, but having a solid, biblical basis for assurance that you have been saved helps a great deal in living a productive, holy Christian life that is pleasing to God.

As we have argued in previous sessions, everyone who is elect will be effectually called by God, which means that they will be regenerated, or born again, and will then repent, believe and be saved. And this salvation will be apparent if we observe the changes in their lives. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” So, let’s briefly discuss how we are to examine ourselves.

We addressed this question before, in Sessions 96 and 97, where we looked at the teaching in 1st John. This letter is an excellent place to look because John tells us that he wrote it to enable his readers to test themselves. In 1 John 5:13 we read, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We noted at that time that the Rev. P.G. Mathew summarized John’s teaching in his commentary on 1 John. Mathew wrote that John provides “three biblical tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test, and the social test.”[2] I don’t want to go back over all that we presented in those sessions, I’ll let those who are interested go listen to them. But I will give a quick survey here and then move on to some other tests.

First, with regard to the doctrinal test, John mentions a number of fundamental Christian doctrines. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but certainly no one is truly born again who doesn’t agree with these basic doctrines. If you are interested in the Scripture references for each of these, take a look at the transcript for this session and you will find them. John mentions the following doctrines: the eternal deity of the second person of the Trinity[3], the fact that Jesus Christ is truly God[4], that he is truly man[5], that he is perfectly holy[6], that he is the promised Messiah[7], that men are all sinners[8], that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins[9], that he has promised eternal life to his chosen people[10], that we are the children of God[11], that we must love our brothers[12], that his children will all be sanctified[13], that we have union with Christ[14], that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers[15], that Jesus truly died on the cross[16], and that obedience to him is necessary for a Christian[17].

Second, with regard to the moral test, in 1 John 2:3 we are told, “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.” This is a very bold and crystal-clear statement. John is not talking about sinless perfection here[18], but he is saying that a Christian’s life will be characterized by obedience. If we claim to be Christians but just go on living however we please, we are liars. And in order to obey Christ, we must know what he commands. In other words, we must know his Word, the Bible. In fact, anyone who has truly been born again will have a desire to know what the Word says. It is a very sad commentary on the modern church that most professing Christians have never read the Bible all the way through even one time, let alone made a lifetime habit of truly studying the Word of God.

Third, and last, is the social test. We read in 1 John 1:7, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another”. And we are told numerous times in the letter that we must love our brothers and that love must be in actions, not just words. This is not just a call to make friendly small talk after church, it is a call to serious fellowship, to be involved in each other’s lives. Praying for one another and helping one another in concrete ways. It includes rebuking and correcting when appropriate, as well as sharing in material possessions and using our individual gifts for the good of the body of Christ. Christians cannot live as individuals who float around as they please. They are to be part of a local church family and to be heavily invested in one another.

So the letter of 1st John is a great place to start in terms of making your calling and election sure. But the entire New Testament is filled with tests we can apply to ourselves. Let me just give a small sampling of the other tests. In John 15:10 we read that Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” This is just one of many verses in the New Testament that speak of the necessity for us to obey God. We are to be conformed to the image of Christ and he clearly tells us here that he obeyed. Now, don’t misunderstand me, our obedience is never perfect in this life. In 1 John 1:8 we are told that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” But if you have been born again, there is a desire to obey God and a sincere grief and repentance and crying out to God for forgiveness when you fail.

Just a few verses further down we read, in John 15:19, that Christ also said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” Friends, if you are comfortable with the ways of the world, if you feel at home here, that is a very bad sign. In Philippians 3:18-21 Paul wrote, “as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” So ask yourself, are you a citizen of earth, or are you a citizen of heaven who is just passing through this life? While praying to the Father about his followers, Jesus said, in John 17:16, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” So, friends, what occupies your thoughts and your desires the majority of the time? Are they worldly, or heavenly? Do you spend great amounts of time studying and preparing for your vacation and no time at all studying God’s Word? Are you a stranger here in this life, or is this your natural home?

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying it is wrong for you to spend some time planning a vacation, working hard at your job, or enjoying the many legitimate pleasures of this life. But how often do your thoughts turn to God? When you step outside on a beautiful spring day and see some new flowers and hear a bird singing, do you instinctively give thanks to God? When you get up in the morning, is your mind filled with all of the things you need to do that day, or do you take time to thank God for giving you another day of life and health? Do you spend time in prayer? And in studying God’s Word? If your Christianity only affects your life on Sunday morning and on other rare occasions, then I must say that your Christianity is not real.

Brothers and sisters, the Bible is God’s only infallible, objective revelation to us. It is our guidebook for life. If you have been born again there must be a desire to know God, and the Bible is where you turn. That is where you learn about God’s purpose and plan and how you can please him. It is where you learn what he loves and what he hates. It is the way you find the narrow path that leads to eternal life. J.I. Packer in his classic book Knowing God wrote, “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you.”[19] And we study God by prayerfully studying his Word.

Don’t buy into the illogical[20] and unbiblical modern idea that the Bible is just a record of human interactions with God and human reflections about God. It is true that men wrote the Bible, but they were guided by God. In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter tells us, “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So, in fact, the Holy Spirit is the primary author of the Bible. It is God’s Word to us and we must believe and obey it. We covered this in detail in Sessions 34 through 38, so I won’t say any more now. My point in the context of our present discussion is simply that your attitude toward the Bible is a very strong indication of whether or not your claim to be a Christian is true. It is a great way to make your calling and election sure.

There is much more that could be said about making our calling and election sure, but let me very briefly summarize what I have shared so far. First, we are commanded to do so. Second, John gives us three ways of testing ourselves; the doctrinal test, the moral test and the social test. Third, we are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, and the dominant characteristic of his life was one of obedience to God. Fourth, we are not to be worldly. We live in this world, but we are not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven and our thoughts should frequently be there. Fifth, our attitude toward the Word of God is critical. We must come to it wanting to know how God would have us live our lives. Our desire should be to please God, not to get ahead in the world.

Now, before I go on, let me be perfectly clear that none of us ever live up to the standard by which we should measure ourselves. That standard is high. But we should see in ourselves an honest striving. In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Many of you have heard the story of John Newton. He was an English slave trader in the 18th century who had a dramatic conversion which started with a storm at sea and led to his becoming an ordained minister. He is perhaps best known for writing the hymn Amazing Grace. A story is told about him near the end of his life commenting on 1 Corinthians 15:10, which says in part, “But by the grace of God I am what I am”. He is reported to have said, “though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’”[21]. That is a wonderful statement, to which all true Christians should be able to say “Amen”. If you have been born again, God will be working throughout your life to conform you to the image of Christ. You may fall down, sometimes terribly, but the general tenor of your life will be one of increasing holiness and hatred of your own sins.

And finally, let me close this topic of making your calling and election sure by pointing out that the current coronavirus pandemic affords an excellent opportunity to do so. How you react to a trial is a very important sign of whether or not you have been born again. If you are a true Christian you will be able to overcome the natural anxiety and fear that attends difficult circumstances and rejoice in the fact that God has saved you. You will be able to have confidence that God is sovereign and fully in control of the situation and that he is good and his purposes are good. Listen to what the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3-7; “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

It is my prayer that this pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused would prove your faith to be genuine and result in praise, glory and honor when Christ returns. And if, after examining yourself, you are not sure of your salvation, then cry out to God in humble repentance. Seek his mercy and study his Word, striving to do what it says. And remember that you can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our best to answer 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] P.G. Mathew, The Normal Church Life, OM Books, 2006, pg. 4

[3] 1 John 1:1-2

[4] 1 John 5:20

[5] 1 John 1:1-2, 4:2, 9

[6] 1 John 1:5, 2:1, 29

[7] John 2:22, 5:1

[8] 1 John 1:8, 10

[9] 1 John 1:7, 2:2, 12, 3:16, 4:10, 14

[10] 1 John 2:17, 25, 5:11

[11] 1 John 3:1-2, 10, 5:19

[12] 1 John 2:9-11, 3:10-11, 14, 23, 4:7-8, 11-12, 19-21

[13] 1 John 3:3, 6, 9, 5:18

[14] 1 John 3:24, 4:13, 5:11

[15] 1 John 3:24, 4:13

[16] 1 John 3:16

[17] 1 John 2:3-6, 3:22, 24, 5:2-3

[18] Or it would conflict with what he says in 1 John 1:8, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

[19] J.I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, 1993, pg. 19

[20] The idea is illogical for many reasons; e.g., the agreement between all the parts of the Bible, which would be impossible given the number of authors and separation in time if they were not guided by God, the prophecies contained in it, and so on. See Sessions 4-11 and 17-21.

[21] quoted from The Christian Spectator, 1821, Vol III, pg. 186

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You’re listening to What Does the Word Say, a series of podcasts on biblical theology produced by Grace and Glory Media, and I’m Dr. Spencer. Our usual host Mr. Roby is not with me again today because we are both still obeying the stay-at-home order issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We are also continuing to take a short break from our series on systematic theology. This week I want to talk about how to think biblically.

It is important for Christians to think biblically at all times, but it is especially important in difficult times like these. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 the apostle Paul wrote, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”[1]

We are not free to think whatever we want to think. Jesus Christ is Lord of everything, including our thinking. It dishonors God and therefore displeases him when we think improperly. So, for example, if we think that the coronavirus pandemic is somehow outside of his control, we dishonor him. To think that way is to disparage his sovereignty and power.

Now someone may think that by believing God is not in control of this pandemic he is defending God from being charged with not being good or loving, but that is a completely unbiblical way to think. We discussed God’s providence in some detail in Sessions 88 through 93, but for now let me just note that if God is not in control of every detail of every single event in the universe, then we can’t trust any of his promises.

Also, the Bible clearly tells us that God is in control of everything, so to say otherwise is unbiblical. I won’t go back through all that we covered before, Session 89 provides a number of Scripture references in support of this statement, but let me just give three examples for today.

First, in Proverbs 16:33 we are told that “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” Now casting a lot was the Old Testament equivalent of rolling the dice, so this proverb is explicitly telling us that God is in control even of things that people tend to think of as random events.

Second, in Psalm 139:16 King David was praying to God and said that “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” This shows us that God is also in control of our lives. In fact, we are told elsewhere that he knits us together in our mother’s wombs (Ps 139:13), he ordains when, where and to whom we are born (e.g., Ps 139:13, Is 45:13, Acts 17:26). He elects us unto salvation or passes us by and leaves us to be justly punished for our sins (e.g., Rom 9:13). He has ordained the exact moment and cause of our death (e.g., 1 Sam 28:19, Ps 139:16). And all of this was done before the creation of the world (e.g., Eph 1:4).

Third, in the New Testament we read, in Matthew 10:29, that Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” Which makes it clear that even seemingly unimportant events in this world are under God’s control.

And we also can’t restrict God’s sovereignty by saying that he isn’t in control of disasters and sinful acts as well. With regard to so-called natural disasters, God has established the fixed laws of heaven and earth as we read in Jeremiah 33:25, which certainly include the physical laws governing weather, earthquakes and so on. But God is still in control of these things. For example, Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee by simply commanding the wind and the waves to be still as we read in Mark 4:39. And with regard to sin, God does not directly cause sin, but he is in complete control of it. If he so chooses, he can stop anyone from doing any particular sinful act. And yet, we must admit the obvious fact that there are very many natural disasters and wicked sinful things that happen in this world. So, it is clear that God allows them to happen, and he does so for a purpose. He is not capricious.

It is sometimes argued, although incorrectly, that the existence of evil in this world proves that God is either not completely good, or not completely sovereign. We answered that charge in Session 74 and so all I’m going to say now is that the statement is the result of a faulty assumption; namely, that God’s purpose is to make our lives here on earth as pleasant as possible, which simply is not true, that isn’t his purpose.

In order to think biblically, in other words correctly, about anything that happens in this life we must first have a biblical perspective on life, which includes understanding that God’s purpose is the manifestation of his own glory. The biblical perspective is also eternal. This life is short, but we are all made for an eternal existence, either in hell or in heaven. When you consider those two eternal realities, all of sudden you realize that the most important thing, in fact, we could say the only truly important thing in this life for everyone is determine to which of these two possible eternal homes you are headed.

All of human history is subservient to this ultimate purpose. God is creating a people for himself, which is variously called the church (e.g., 1 Tim 3:5), or the family of God (e.g., 1 Pet 4:17), or the bride of Christ (e.g., Eph 5:24-32), or God’s inheritance (e.g., 1 Sam 10:1), or God’s treasured possession (e.g., Ex 19:5). The one thing needful, as Christ said to Martha in Luke 10:42, is to make sure that Jesus Christ is our personal Lord and Savior, “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” as we are told in Acts 4:12.

To think biblically means to view everything through the lens of Scripture. In other words, it is to have a biblical worldview. Phil Johnson, the late professor of law at the UC Berkeley Law School and author of a number of excellent books, wrote that “Understanding worldview is a bit like trying to see the lens of one’s own eye. We do not ordinarily see our own worldview, but we see everything else by looking through it. Put simply, our worldview is the window by which we view the world, and decide, often subconsciously, what is real and important, or unreal and unimportant.”[2]

The common idea that we can build our worldview from scratch by being entirely neutral observers of reality and then analyzing the data and determining what we think is right is completely false. There is no such thing as a neutral observer and everyone, the scientist no less than the artist, views everything through the lens of his own preexisting worldview. And he will work to incorporate everything he sees into this preexisting worldview.

Now, our worldview is a bit like an onion, it has layers to it. On the outer layers we have opinions that are things we think are probably true, but we are perfectly able and willing to change those views if we find them to be inconsistent with the world we observe. So there certainly is a sense in which we can correct and build our worldview. But as you peel off the layers and get deeper and deeper into your worldview, you get into things that you believe far more strongly. Views that it would be incredibly difficult to convince you to change. And when you get to the very core of your worldview, you come to your most dearly held personal commitments, and the most important of these by far is whether or not you believe the God of the Bible exists and whether or not you believe the Bible to be his infallible Word. Every single human being alive either believes these statements are true, or not true. There are no exceptions. To think that you haven’t decided yet, is to have decided in the negative.

And these two statements are really inseparable since the Bible is the only place we receive objective revelation of the true and living God and his way of salvation. Now, we can learn many things about God from the world around us and from our own nature, but that revelation doesn’t provide sufficient information to be saved and to properly love and serve God; it is only sufficient to leave us without excuse when we stand before God.

Paul wrote in Romans 1:18-20 that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” In other words, this revelation, which is called general revelation, is sufficient for obligating every single human being to seek to know the true and living God, but no one does so. Paul wrote in Romans 3:11 that “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”

So, all people in their natural state have a fundamental, core belief, or presupposition, that the God of the Bible does not exist and the Bible is not his infallible Word. In one sense everyone knows better but, as Paul wrote, they suppress this truth. And because of this fundamental presupposition at the core of his worldview, the unbeliever thinks differently than a born-again Christian will think. Paul wrote, in Romans 1:21, immediately after the verses I read a minute ago, that “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.” He also wrote, in Ephesians 4:17, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” An unbeliever’s thinking is futile because it will never arrive at the right answer about God.

It isn’t that unbelievers can’t design cell phones and GPS systems, build cars and bridges and so on. They can do all of those things. But whenever it comes to thinking about God, they will get the wrong answer. And God is the only reality that truly matters in the end. Because where you spend eternity, whether in heaven or in hell, depends on your answer to one simple question, which Christ posed to his disciples in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say I am?”

Unbelievers will give a range of answers to this question. Some may simply say that Jesus Christ is a fictional character and never really existed at all. Some will say that he is a real, historical figure, but that he was just a normal man who was put to death by the Romans in 1st-century Palestine and that was the end of him. His disciples then told people he had been raised from the dead and started what we call Christianity. Some unbelievers will concede that Christ was a great moral teacher, but nothing more.

Some unbelievers will even say that Jesus Christ is God and will call themselves Christians, but they have made up a different Jesus in their minds rather than believing in the Jesus who is revealed to us in his Word, the Bible. And this is nothing new. In his second letter to the church in Corinth Paul was rebuking them for not remaining true to the gospel and he wrote, in 2 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” But a different Jesus is of no use, in fact a different Jesus, a different gospel, will damn you. Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 7:21 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 statement is terrifying. Jesus goes on to say that many will come to him this way and he will tell them to depart from him. In other words, he will send them to hell.

Only a true, born-again Christian will give the right answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”. A true believer will say that Jesus Christ is the second person of the eternal, almighty triune God, the Creator, Sustainer, Judge and Redeemer of all mankind. This eternal second person of the holy Trinity became incarnate when the Holy Spirit caused the virgin Mary to conceive. She then gave birth and Jesus grew up, lived a perfect sinless life, and willingly gave his life on the cross as the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of all those who put their faith in him.

This radical difference in worldviews between a believer and an unbeliever leads to a radical difference in thinking. But there are two important points to make about this difference. First, you cannot change your own worldview in this radical way. You must be born again. You must cry out for God to do a mighty work and give you a new heart and a new spirit so that you can repent and believe on Jesus Christ. As Jesus said in John Chapter 6, Verses 44 and 65, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” and “no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

And the second important point, and what I want to spend the rest of our time on today, is that if you have been born again, you still need to work in order to develop proper biblical thinking. A born-again person has the right presupposition at the core of his worldview, and he has the Spirit to enable him to understand God’s Word and apply it, but he also still has his old sinful nature to fight against and he needs to study the Word seriously, put it into practice, mortify his sin and walk in holiness in order to grow in faith and knowledge. We can’t just assume that if we have been born again, or regenerated, we suddenly know how to properly live the Christian life.

That is why the New Testament epistles always contain both indicatives and imperatives. The indicatives are there to instruct us about certain facts and the imperatives are there to command us how we are to live in the light of those facts. And we are given pastors and teachers to help us understand and apply the Word properly. We read in Ephesians 4:11-16 that it was Christ himself who, “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Without proper teaching and study, you can be born again and yet remain an infant in Christ, being “tossed back and forth by the waves” of this life. Waves like the coronavirus pandemic. And you can be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching”, like the false preachers who will tell you that if you have enough faith God will certainly heal you and keep your finances from failing. Now, to be clear, the Bible says that God is able to heal you and keep your finances from failing, and it is proper for you to pray for that. But the Bible is equally clear that God does not promise to do so. He will do whatever is best for you and will give him the greatest glory.

For example, even the apostle Paul was given a thorn in the flesh to humble him. He prayed three times for God to remove it, in fact we are told he pleaded with God to remove it, and yet God said “No.” We read in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that God’s answer was to say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It would obviously be silly to say that Paul’s faith was not sufficient, so the false teachers who say things like this are wicked charlatans on their way to hell and they want to bring you along with them. Don’t listen to them! Read the Word of God. Study it. Know what it says. Be guided by pious and learned men. If you study the Word yourself and pray, you can tell the difference. Go to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, and request your free copy of Good News for All People by the Rev. P.G. Mathew. If you read it prayerfully and then continue to study the Word, you will find it is written by a pious and learned man and that it properly expounds the Word of God, which is able to save you and equip you for difficult times, which the Bible says we will all go through. Times like we are in right now.

In our session last week, I mentioned that we must all make our calling and election sure because if we are not God’s children, then his promises are not for us and we have no real hope. The way you make your calling and election sure is by prayerfully studying God’s Word and then examining your life in the light of the many tests given to us in that Word. I will speak more about that next week, but for today let me just say that if you have been born again, if the love of God is in you, then you can take great solace in his promises.

You may die from Covid-19, or your spouse may die from it, or you may lose your job and much of your savings, these are all possible even for God’s children. But you have eternal life and God has promised that he will never leave you nor forsake you. You can rejoice as I noted last week even as you go through these trials. In fact, let me close with one of God’s great promises to his children. In Philippians 4:6-7 God commands us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, what a glorious promise this is! The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, can be ours even as we go through trials. Do not be anxious. Go to God with thanksgiving and praise and, yes, even with your requests for worldly things. He may not grant all of your worldly requests, but he does promise to give you his peace. And he promises, in Roman 8:28, that in all things, even this pandemic, he works for the good of those who love him.

So, may God bless you with his peace. And I hope that you will join with me in praying that God will use this pandemic to draw many people to himself, that we would see a mighty revival.

And remember that you can send your 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] In the Foreword to Nancy Pearcey’s book, Total Truth; Liberating Christianity form its Cultural Captivity, Crossway Books, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Should I give you a drum roll?

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And what are those?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: That makes good sense.

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

Marc Roby: That again sounds perfectly reasonable.

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And how would you like to begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Murray, op. cit., pg. 79

[4] Ibid, see the bottom of page 86

[5] Ibid, pg. 87

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid, pg. 89

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid, pg. 90

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

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

[14] Ibid, pg. 88

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