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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. In our previous sessions on this topic we have shown why Jesus Christ had to be both God and man in order to save us and we provided biblical support for the fact that Jesus Christ is fully God. We ended our previous session by beginning to examine the biblical teaching that Jesus is also fully man. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: By reminding ourselves of our ultimate standard for truth, in other words, our ultimate authority. If you are a true Christian, then the Bible is your ultimate standard for truth, your ultimate authority. We cannot reject something the Bible clearly teaches just because we don’t understand it. This principle is never more important than when we discuss doctrines like the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ.

Marc Roby: Well, those are definitely two doctrines that go way beyond our ability to understand.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, they go way beyond it, yes. But we must not conclude from our inability to fully comprehend them that we can’t comprehend them correctly. God is able to communicate true knowledge to us even about things we can’t fully grasp. Our knowledge will not be complete, but it can be true.

Marc Roby: And, of course, no reasonable person would expect that a creature could fully understand its Creator!

Dr. Spencer: No, of course not.

Marc Roby: But you make an important point that our knowledge can be true and correct independent of the fact that it is incomplete. The same thing is true even in our understanding of the physical world around us. The fact that we don’t know everything certainly doesn’t imply that what we do know is necessarily false.

Dr. Spencer: No, of course not. And the issue of authority is critical because there have been improper objections to the dual nature of Christ from the very beginning. The Jews at the time of Jesus had an extremely difficult time with the idea that God could become incarnate. They quite properly had an extremely high view of God, as should we. He is the transcendent Creator, totally separate from his creation.  But it is wrong to conclude from that fact that he could not become incarnate.

Marc Roby: And, as we pointed out in our last Session in discussing the passage in Philippians 2:5-11, the apostle Paul clearly assumed that his readers understood that the man Jesus Christ was fully God.

Dr. Spencer: And he made that assumption because Jesus had convincingly demonstrated his divinity in a number of different ways. The people clearly understood the implications of his actions. For example, in Chapter 10 of John’s gospel, we read about the people coming to Jesus and saying, in Verse 24, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” [1] And Jesus went on to remind them of the miracles he had performed and ended by saying, in Verse 30, that “I and the Father are one.”

Marc Roby: Yes, and at which point the people picked up stones and prepared to stone him to death.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And Jesus then asked them, in Verse 32, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” And the people responded, in Verse 33, by saying, “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Marc Roby: That does show clearly that they understood his claim to be God, and so the many people who became convinced and actually placed their faith in him certainly knew that he is God. As doubting Thomas confessed in John 20:28 when he finally believed, “My Lord and my God!”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. The believers at that time knew that Jesus was God. But there were some people who doubted his humanity. Some said that he only appeared to be like a man, but wasn’t really a man.

Marc Roby: Which was a heresy that appeared very early on, called Docetism, which comes from the Greek word δοκέω (dokeō), meaning “to seem”.

Dr. Spencer: And this heresy came about in part because of their properly high view of God as I noted before and in part because of pagan philosophies of the time that taught that matter is inherently evil and the spirit is good. Therefore, since they thought that matter is evil, they couldn’t accept the idea that God would truly become man.[2]

Marc Roby: Yet another example of men rejecting God’s revelation because it doesn’t make sense to them.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And we noted last time that the apostle John dealt with this heresy in his first letter. In 1 John 4:2 we read, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God”. And John goes on in Verse 3 to tell us that this heresy is serious. It is, in fact, deadly. Let me read Verses 2 and 3 together; “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

Marc Roby: That is serious error! To deny the full humanity of Christ, that he has come in the flesh as John put it, is the spirit of the antichrist.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why I want to spend more time on the doctrine of the humanity of Jesus Christ. In the following treatment, I’m going to draw heavily on the material in Chapter 26 of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.[3]

Marc Roby: Okay. Where would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, to use a cliché, let’s begin at the beginning. But not the beginning of Jesus’ deity of course, because there is no beginning to God, he necessarily exists eternally and unconditionally. But let’s begin at the beginning of his incarnation, which is the virgin birth.

Marc Roby: Now the idea of a virgin giving birth is something that many modern people, even some professing Christians, find seriously objectionable.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true, but the virgin birth of Christ is an essential doctrine of biblical Christianity. And it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who believes the first four words of the Bible.

Marc Roby: Which are, “In the beginning God …”.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. If someone doesn’t believe that, then he or she has no legitimate claim to being a Christian, or even any kind of theist. But if you do believe that, namely that God exists, a God who created this entire universe, then why on earth is it a problem to believe that he could cause a virgin to conceive a child?

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. And the apostle Paul used similar logic in arguing for the resurrection of Christ before King Agrippa. In Acts 26:8 he asked this rhetorical question, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” His point obviously being that since God exists – a God who can create all things – then it shouldn’t be a problem for him to raise the dead.

Dr. Spencer: Nor should it be a problem for him to cause a virgin to conceive and give birth to a son. And that is exactly what the Bible tells us. In Matthew 1:18 we read; “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

Now, although we are not provided with a detailed explanation, this verse couldn’t be clearer. Before Joseph and Mary came together as husband and wife, she conceived a child “through the Holy Spirit.” This is not implying some vulgar act like you find in ancient myths, it is speaking of a miraculous conception without a human father by the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Joseph initially assumed that the child had been conceived in the ordinary way, and he knew it wasn’t his, which was a serious problem. So we read in Verses 19-21, “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”

Dr. Spencer: Now modern readers can be confused by the statement that Joseph “had in mind to divorce her quietly.” We are told that they had not yet come together as husband and wife, but they were pledged to be married. Now, in the culture of the time that pledge was itself a binding commitment and would need to be broken in a formal way, which is what the NIV here renders as divorce. In any event, the angel told Joseph that “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”, which again describes this miraculous conception. And he goes on to give the child a name. He tells Joseph, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Marc Roby: We should point out that the Greek word Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous) is a transliteration of the Hebrew word Joshua, which means “Jehovah is salvation”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s an important point. And Matthew then ties this back to the Old Testament prophecy. In Verse 22 he writes that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’” Matthew is referring to the famous prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 where the prophet tells King Ahaz about a coming child who will deliver his people and says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Marc Roby: So this passage in Matthew explicitly tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, that he was to be named Jesus because he would save his people from their sins, and that his birth was the fulfillment of the prophecy given by Isaiah about 700 years before that a child named “God with us” would be born to a virgin and would deliver his people.

Dr. Spencer: That is all true and all very important. The birth is also the fulfillment of the prophecy given by God himself in the Garden of Eden immediately after the fall. In pronouncing his judgment against the serpent, God said, as we read in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  Notice that it says it is the offspring of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, not the offspring of the man.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s an interesting point. And we clearly see God’s sovereign control over all of human history. He knew before he ever created the world that man would fall, and he had the solution in mind from all eternity. But he revealed it to his people a little bit a time.

Dr. Spencer: And Grudem points out that the virgin birth of Christ is theologically significant for three reasons. First, it establishes that salvation comes from the Lord. Grudem wrote that “The virgin birth of Christ is an unmistakable reminder that salvation can never come through human effort, but must be the work of God himself.”[4]

Marc Roby: That also makes me think of the passage from Isaiah 45 that we looked at last week where God declares that he alone is God and he alone is the Savior. In Isaiah 45:21 we read, “Declare what is to be, present it— let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s very true. Jesus Christ is God, Jehovah, the only Savior. And the second reason the virgin birth is theologically significant is that it made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in the person Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I think that statement needs an explanation.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Grudem discusses other possible ways we could imagine God becoming incarnate and points out, without in any way meaning to limit God, that this way had the advantage of Jesus having a human mother, which makes his humanity evident to us, but having been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, which makes his deity evident.

Marc Roby: Yes, that makes sense. You said Grudem gave three reasons the virgin birth is theologically significant, so what is the third?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the third reason is that it makes possible Jesus’ true humanity and yet his being sinless.

Marc Roby: That again requires some explanation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does. We discussed the doctrine of original sin back in Session 106. It states that because Adam was the God-appointed representative of the human race, when he sinned, we all fell with him. His sin resulted in his having a sinful nature, which is at enmity with God, and that nature is passed on from parents to children on through the generations. We inherit a sinful nature from Adam through our parents. That is the doctrine of original sin.

But because Jesus Christ was not conceived in the normal way, Grudem writes that “this helps us to understand why the legal guilt and moral corruption that belongs to all other human beings did not belong to Christ.”[5]

Marc Roby: Of course, we don’t understand fully how the sinful nature is passed on, so we also don’t understand fully how Christ was kept from inheriting a sinful nature from his mother.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t know the details. And Grudem again in no way intends to limit God’s freedom. He is simply pointing out that by doing it this way God made it easier for us to understand. He provides some biblical support for this position also by examining the response Mary received when she asked the angel how it could be that she would conceive a child as a virgin. In Luke 1:35 we read that “the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” Now, I have quoted the English Standard Version here rather than our usual New International Version because it agrees with what Grudem argues is the correct translation of the Greek. Specifically, it says “therefore the child to be born will be called holy”, which implies a causal connection between the fact that the child is conceived by the Holy Spirit and the fact that the child is to be holy, that is, without sin.

Marc Roby: That’s very interesting. And I look forward to looking into the humanity of Christ further next time, but this is good place to finish for today. So let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d love to hear from you.

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

[2] E.g., see Docetism in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1976, Vol. 2, pg. 151; or John M. Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pp 89-90

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

[4] Ibid, pg. 530

[5] Ibid

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Marc Roby: In these podcasts, we have now covered two of the six classic loci of reformed theology; theology proper – in other words, the study of God, and anthropology, which is the study of man. We still have four more loci to cover: Christology, which is the study of Jesus Christ the Redeemer; Soteriology, which means the study of salvation; Ecclesiology, which means the study of the church; and Eschatology, which means the study of last things. And so, today we are going to begin to examine biblical Christology. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to start?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to begin by pointing out the logic behind the order of presentation we are using. We began our podcast series with some preliminary material: why people should be interested in what the Bible says, a brief outline of what the Bible teaches, and a presentation of external evidence that corroborates the truthfulness of Bible. We then went on to present a case that the Bible is sufficient, necessary, authoritative and clear, which can be represented by the acrostic SNAC.

Marc Roby: And when we say the Bible is sufficient and necessary, we mean that it is sufficient and necessary for salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we then made the case that the Bible is infallible, which is what one would expect since it is the Word of God. And we closed our preliminary material by discussing hermeneutics, the science of how to properly interpret the Bible.

We then began looking at the six loci of reformed theology, which you noted at the beginning of today’s session. We started by examining theology proper, the study of God. And we did that first because true biblical Christianity is theocentric, meaning it is God centered. The purpose of creation is the manifestation of the glory of God. He is the only eternal, self-existent, necessary reality. Everything else exists only because God chose to create it and chooses to sustain it.

Marc Roby: And we have made the point many times that we must always keep the Creator/creature distinction in mind.

Dr. Spencer: That distinction is critically important. The universe does not revolve around us. We do not exist necessarily, only God does. We then moved on to discuss anthropology, which is the study of man. Now it might at first seem strange that we would cover anthropology second. Why not, for example, discuss Christology first?

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a good question. Especially since Jesus Christ is God incarnate and we began with theology proper. So continuing with Christology would make sense.

Dr. Spencer: It would, but we must ask the question, “Why did Jesus Christ become incarnate?” Why, in other words, did God become man?

Marc Roby: And the short answer of course is that God became man in order to save his people from their sins. We are told in Matthew 1:21 that before Jesus was born an angel appeared to Mary’s fiancée, Joseph, and said, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” [1] This is the good news God offers to us, we can be saved.

Dr. Spencer: That is the best possible news. And notice that we can’t fully understand who Jesus Christ is and what he has done without first understanding the problem he came to solve. In other words, the gospel, which simply means good news, makes no sense unless we have first received the bad news that we are by nature justly subject to God’s wrath and headed for eternal hell. The solution makes no sense if you don’t understand the problem.

Marc Roby: But, of course, many people do not believe that they are sinners, or that there is an eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: And that is why we must always begin by presenting people with the problem. The reality is that everyone knows in their heart that God exists. Paul tells us this in Romans Chapter 1. Many people won’t admit that fact, but it is true nonetheless. And the universality of sin is also obvious. Why do we need keys? Why do we need passwords for our bank accounts? Why do we read about crime every single day? And why don’t we do exactly what we know we should do every minute of every day?

Marc Roby: And the answer to every one of those questions is that we are all sinners.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Jesus himself told us in Mark 2:17 that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” And so the bad news is that we are all sinners and God is a perfectly just and holy God and must punish sin. In particular, he must punish my sin! But the good news is that Jesus came to save sinners.

In Session 108 we made the case for the doctrine of Total depravity, which says that there is no aspect of our being that is unaffected by sin. We are born enemies of God and subject to his eternal wrath. And because we are his enemies, we are incapable of doing anything to save ourselves from his just wrath. We need help. But there is a very fundamental problem that needs to be overcome for anyone to be able to help us.

Marc Roby: What problem is that?

Dr. Spencer: The price that needs to be paid to redeem us from our sin is too great for any mere human being to ever pay. Because our sin is rebellion against God himself, the infinite, eternal, self-existent Creator of all things, it warrants an infinite punishment. I mentioned this way back in Session 13, where I pointed out that the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards correctly argued in his famous sermon “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners”,[2] that the heinousness of our sins is proportional to the dignity of the one against whom we sin.

We see this principle at work in the laws of our country. For example, it is a more serious crime if you murder the president than it is if you murder me. And so, Edwards argues, since God is infinite in his greatness, majesty and glory, he is infinitely honorable and sin against him deserves infinite punishment. And since sin is the transgression of God’s law, all sin is, first and foremost, against God. All sin is rebellion against his rule.

Marc Roby: And, therefore, no mere man would be able to pay the infinite penalty we deserve.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The only one who can pay an infinite price is God himself. And yet, because it is man who sinned, it must be man who pays the price.

Marc Roby: And, therefore, the problem is that we need someone who is both God and man.

Dr. Spencer: And that person is Jesus Christ. We see a wonderful illustration of his dual nature in Matthew 8:23-27. We read in Verse 23 that Jesus “got into the boat and his disciples followed him.” Now this was a small fishing boat and they were heading out across the Sea of Galilee, which is famous for the violent storms that can pop up very quickly. So, in Verses 24-26 we read that “Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” And then, in Verse 27, we are told how the apostles reacted. We read that “The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’”

Marc Roby: I always wonder how I would respond to such an event. It is an unimaginable display of Jesus’ power.

Dr. Spencer: It is an amazing display of both his humanity and his deity. He is truly human. He walked with his disciples, he talked with them, he got into the boat with them, and like all human beings he got tired. And because he was tired, he went to sleep in the boat. But then, when they had awakened him because of the storm, he simply commanded the storm to cease, and it did. Only God can do that. He didn’t pray and ask God to stop the storm, he simply commanded the wind and the waves and they obeyed.

Marc Roby: That is a wonderfully clear illustration of Christ’s authority over the creation. But the dual nature of Christ, meaning the biblical teaching that he is both God and man, is obviously an extremely difficult doctrine to understand.

Dr. Spencer: And that is why many have rejected it. Jehovah’s Witnesses for example, reject it, but in practice, even many who call themselves evangelical Christians reject it. Many of them do not truly believe that Jesus is who he said he is, God and man, and that he literally died on the cross to pay for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification. But that is exactly what the Bible teaches. It is an absolutely essential doctrine of true, biblical Christianity.

Marc Roby: And we have made the case before that the Bible must be the ultimate authority for a Christian. We can’t use our reason to stand in judgment over what the Bible teaches.

Dr. Spencer: That is the critical point. The issue is one of authority as we have noted before. If a person has been born again, born of the Spirit of God, that person will accept the Bible as God’s authoritative Word. He will use his reason to understand the Word of God, but not to sit in judgment over it. It is obviously ridiculous to use our reason as the ultimate arbiter of truth. We are finite sinful creatures and our reason is so limited and subject to error. We should never accept a true contradiction of course, but we should not reject something as being true just because we can’t fully understand it. If it is a clear teaching of the Bible, we must accept it.

Marc Roby: And there is no contradiction in the statement that Jesus Christ is both God and man.

Dr. Spencer: No, there isn’t. There is great mystery of course, and the church struggled mightily for many years in coming up with a statement about the nature of Christ that is completely consistent with the Bible’s teaching, but there isn’t any contradiction involved. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is a carefully thought-out statement. Jesus Christ is one person, but with two distinct natures. He is simultaneously God and man.

Dr. Spencer:  And his humanity is real, not an illusion. He is a man just like you and me except that he is, and always was, without sin. In Philippians 2:5 the apostle Paul exhorts us to be humble and says that our “attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”. He then goes in in Verses 6-11 to give us one of the most important statements about Christ. Verses 5-11 together say, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Marc Roby: There is a lot of theology packed into that short passage. And we have looked at it before when we gave some of the biblical arguments for the deity of Christ in Sessions 51 through 54.

Dr. Spencer: There is a lot of theology in that passage, you’re right. And, as you noted, we have discussed the deity of Christ before when we covered the Trinity as part of our study of theology proper. So some of what I’m going to say about the deity of Christ here will be repetition. But the topic is so important that it certainly bears repetition. And I won’t repeat everything we said then, so I would encourage any listener who is really interested in this topic to go listen to, or read, those podcasts as well.

Marc Roby: Yes, and, we should remind our listeners that all of our past podcasts can be found, along with their transcripts and some indexes, on our website at whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good reminder. But getting back to the passage in Philippians 2, I want to make a couple of points. First, notice that it says in Verse 6 that Jesus was, “in very nature God”. A similar statement appears in Hebrews 1:3, which says that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”. The meaning of these verses is clear. Jesus Christ is God. He is also a man of course, but he is God. It isn’t just that he is God’s representative, that could also be said about Adam, or Moses, but Jesus Christ was, is and always will be God.

Marc Roby: Of course, the man Jesus did not always exist in his humanity.

Dr. Spencer: No, of course not. And the rest of the passage in Philippians 2 deals with that. Verses 6-7 in full read, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” In other words, although he was eternal God, Jesus didn’t consider his glory and status as the second person of the Trinity something that he had to hold on to. He was willing to temporarily let go of some of his honor and glory in order to become incarnate and save his people.

Marc Roby: And he did that when he was born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem. In Luke 1:35 we read that an angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the astounding truth. God was willing to humble himself to the point of becoming a man; two distinct natures in one person. He became a poor carpenter from the backwater village of Bethlehem. And Philippians 2 goes on, in Verse 8, to say that “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Marc Roby: Which is truly amazing given that being hung on a tree was considered cursed by the Jews of that time. We read in Deuteronomy 21:23 that “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”

Dr. Spencer: And Paul quotes that verse in his letter to the church in Galatia. In Galatians 3:13 we read that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”

Marc Roby: It boggles the mind that God would do that to save sinful and rebellious people.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does boggle the mind, but that is the gospel. As we said, because man is the one who sinned against God, it must be man who pays the price. But no mere man can pay the price, which is infinite because our sin is against God, who is infinite. But God chose to save some people and, therefore, it became what John Murray calls a consequent absolute necessity for Jesus to be incarnate and die on the cross, bearing the wrath of God for our sins.[4] Because Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, he is uniquely qualified to accomplish this task. His humanity makes the sacrifice acceptable on behalf of man, and his deity makes the sacrifice of sufficient value. We are told in Hebrews 7:27 that Christ “sacrificed for [our] sins once for all when he offered himself.”

Jesus Christ was not just a good man who gave us an example to live up to. He was, and is, God and his sacrifice was a real sacrifice that was necessary to satisfy divine justice.

Marc Roby: Many modern professing Christians are offended at the idea of a sacrifice. It sounds vulgar and primitive to them.

Dr. Spencer: Independent of how it may sound to modern people, it is the truth. Sin is ugly and terrible and the penalty is correspondingly ugly and terrible. We can never understand who Jesus Christ is if we divorce him from his fundamental mission. Jesus Christ came for the express purpose of offering himself as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of his people. He is the unique God-man, the only possible Savior. As Peter declared before the Jewish rulers in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Marc Roby: And we must give all praise and thanks to God for Jesus Christ and the salvation he brings!

Dr. Spencer: Oh absolutely. And the best way to show our thanks is through obedience. Notice that this passage said that Christ was obedient to death. His incarnation and sacrifice were done in obedience to the will of God. We’ll come back to this point later, but if we are God’s children, we must also be obedient, just as our Lord and Savior was.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a challenge to us all, but we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

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

[2] “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1, Hendrickson Publishers, 2005, pg. 669

[3] From; Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VIII, Paragraph 2 (http://www.apuritansmind.com/westminster-standards/chapter-8/)

[4] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pp 11-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What connection are you referring to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: That is the classic chapter to make this point. He begins that section, in James 2:14, by saying, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” And he then goes on to describe that “such faith”, meaning a faith without any good works, is a dead faith, a useless faith, and it cannot save anyone.

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

Marc Roby: And Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Paul doesn’t say the new will come sometime in the future; he says it has come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

[3] Ibid, pg. 310

[4] Ibid, pg. 306

[5] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes. Today we are going to look at the peace of God. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: By noting that God’s peace is not often listed as an attribute, but it is an important part of a complete description of God’s being. Wayne Grudem does list it separately and justifies that, I think quite reasonably, by citing 1 Corinthians 14:33 where the apostle Paul wrote that “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” [1]

Marc Roby: And, of course, the context for that statement is that Paul was discussing proper order in church worship. The Corinthian congregation had evidently developed some serious problems in terms of over emphasizing certain gifts, in particular, speaking in tongues, and their worship services were not as orderly as they should be.

Dr. Spencer: And the result of this disorder was that the church as a whole, the body of Christ, was not being built up. This chapter follows the famous chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, and Paul is laboring to instruct the church in Corinth how to use all of their gifts in love for the edification of the body of Christ.

One interesting thing about 1 Corinthians 14:33 is that peace is contrasted with disorder, or confusion, not with conflict or war. The peace being spoken of here is much more comprehensive than just an absence of conflict. It is a positive statement about well-being.

Marc Roby: Certainly the Hebrew word for peace, shalom, also signifies much more than the absence of conflict. Jewish people still use the word as their standard greeting to one another. Vine’s Expository Dictionary says that shalom means “peace; completeness; welfare; [and] health” and that the “root meaning” is to be whole.[2]

Dr. Spencer: Vines also points out that the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, often translates shalom with the Greek word σωτηρία (sōtēria), which means salvation.[3] The theologian John Frame says that “Theologically, [peace] represents the fullness of the blessings of salvation: peace as opposed to war, but also completeness, wholeness, and prosperity.”[4]

Marc Roby: I can’t think of anything that even comes close to bringing the peace that salvation brings.

Dr. Spencer: Neither can I. And the theme of peace is very common throughout the Bible. In fact, the famous Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 is, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, God is the only one who can give us peace in the ultimate sense of that term, that of salvation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. As we discussed in Session 79, the defining problem of the human race is that God is holy and we are not, we are guilty sinners. And since, as it says in Hebrews 9:27, “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”, salvation is the one thing we truly need. Without it, we will spend eternity in hell being justly judged for our sins. But with salvation, we have peace in the greatest possible sense.

In Romans 5:10 we are told that prior to coming to Christ in faith we were God’s enemies. In Romans 1:18 we read that we were under his wrath. And in Romans 8:17 we read that “the sinful mind is hostile to God.” So how wonderful it is when we read in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Marc Roby: That is great news. And we should note that you must have peace with God, that is you must repent, believe and be saved, before you can have the peace of God in your heart. If we have done that, then God is no longer our enemy. We are reconciled to him and he even adopts us as his children and gives us the privilege of calling him “Abba”, Father, as we read in Romans 8:15.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is amazing. And sin doesn’t only bring separation between us and God, it brings problems into the relationships we have with other human beings. All anger, malice, hatred, strife and wars are caused, ultimately, by sin. When God brings peace to us in the ultimate sense, these will all disappear.

Marc Roby: That’s a wonderful thing to look forward to.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. But getting back to my statement that this theme of peace is very common throughout the Bible, let me illustrate. In the book of Judges we read about Gideon, who was the fifth recorded judge of Israel during the period of the judges, from around 1400 B.C. to 1050 B.C. God used him to deliver his people from the oppression of the Midianites, and in Judges 6:24 we read, “So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace.” That phrase, “The LORD is Peace” is Yahweh shalom in Hebrew and is one of many phrases helping to define who God is. We also read a wonderful and well-known prophecy about the coming Savior in Isaiah 9:6; “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Marc Roby: That is a glorious prophecy about the coming of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Written, I might add, around 700 years before Jesus’ birth! And in the very next verse, Isaiah 9:7, we read that “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”

Dr. Spencer: And the Hebrew word used in both of those verses is again, shalom. We are told the same thing in the New Testament. There are five places where God is referred to as the “God of peace.” For example, in Romans 15:33 the apostle gives the benediction, “The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” Then, in the next chapter, we read a very interesting verse. Paul wrote, in Romans 16:20, that “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

Marc Roby: That is interesting. You wouldn’t normally think of a “God of peace” crushing anyone. That doesn’t sound so peaceful.

Dr. Spencer: Well, it isn’t in the normal sense of that word. But it is the same Greek word in both of these verses. This gives us a great illustration of the breadth of meaning to the word peace in the Bible. While it certainly can refer to a cessation of hostilities and an absence of conflict, the deeper meaning is, as we saw for the Hebrew word shalom, an inner peace and wholeness and being reconciled to God. It is not all inconsistent to say that you can be at peace while you are simultaneously vigorously opposing Satan’s attacks. The peace that God gives to us is not a peace that is dependent on our momentary circumstances because it is founded on our having the most important relationship of all, our relationship to God, fully restored by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is why the prophet Habakkuk could exclaim, in Habakkuk 3:17-18, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Marc Roby: That verse shows that there is a close connection between peace and joy. We are told in Romans 14:17 that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.  Only the peace and joy provided by God can explain Paul and Silas being able to pray and sing hymns to God in the middle of the night while sitting in a Philippian jail, with their feet in stocks, having been severely beaten as we read in Acts 16:25.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s true. And in Philippians 4:6-7 Paul 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.” In that verse, the phrase “the peace of God” is a genitive of possession, it means the peace that belongs to God, but is given to his people. And when you look at situations like Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, or the great Christian martyrs who sang while being burned at the stake, like John Huss,[5] you realize that the peace of God truly does transcend all understanding.

Marc Roby: And at the end of that passage in Philippians 4 we see another of the places where God is called the “God of peace.” In Philippians 4:9 Paul wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an important verse. God gives his peace to us, but we must put into practice the things he has commanded. The life of a Christian is one of constant change. We will never be perfect in this life, but we are called to live holy lives and we should be striving to do so more and more all through life. We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Marc Roby: Which is the process of being sanctified.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the final two places where God is referred to as the “God of peace” in the New Testament both occur in the context of sanctification. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 Paul wrote, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.”

Marc Roby: Now of course, we must work as well, we can’t just sit back and expect God to do the work of making us holy.

Dr. Spencer: No, we can’t. The classic passage to deal with that is  Philippians 2:12-13 where after speaking about the humble obedience of Christ and his great glory to come Paul wrote, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Marc Roby: That’s a marvelous passage for showing that. God works in us, but we must work out. And he goes on to say what the goal is, in Verse 15 it says, “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe”.

Dr. Spencer: What a wonderful purpose that is! And the final passage where God is called the “God of peace” also deals with this topic of sanctification. In Hebrews 13:20-21 we read, “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Marc Roby: It is wonderful to realize that in spite of our great weakness, God is able to equip us with everything we need to do his will.

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful realization, but it is something that we are told over and over again in the Bible. I don’t want to wander way off our topic of peace, but just for example, in 2 Corinthians 9:8 we read that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” And in Philippians 4:13 Paul wrote, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Marc Roby: And we are clearly told that God has prepared good works for each of us to do. In Ephesians 2:10 we read that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very good thing for us to keep in mind at all times. God has work that he has planned for us to do and we should be busy doing that work. But it is not a work of drudgery. Because God is peace, he is also working to produce peace in us. With the exception of Jesus’ time on the cross, where by mutual agreement the Father poured out his wrath on his own Son while he bore our sins, there has always been perfect fellowship within the persons of the godhead. And even in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross there was perfect agreement within the godhead. And God is working to produce that same mind-boggling unity and peace within his people. It begins when we are saved and therefore have peace with God, but it doesn’t end there. We still sin, and we still have internal struggles and strife with one another, but God is working to deal with all of our problems. It is interesting that the great 17th-century Puritan, Stephen Charnock, briefly discussed the peace God gives to his people under the heading of God’s power.

Marc Roby: That is an interesting place to put it.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But it makes perfect sense because only God is able to produce real peace in his people. Charnock writes, “As none but infinite power can remove the guilt of sin, so none but infinite power can remove the despairing sense of it.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting point. And it reminds me of Christ appearing to his disciples after his resurrection, which is the most amazing demonstration of God’s power imaginable. In John Chapter 20 we see three times, in Verses 19, 21 and 26, Jesus saying to them, “Peace be with you!”

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. In Ephesians 6:15 the gospel is called “the gospel of peace”. I remember very well how I was before I was saved at the age of 38. There were occasional times of feeling desperately alone, afraid and anxious. Knowing that there was something missing from my life and that was critically important, in fact necessary. And I praise God for mercifully opening my eyes to my need for Jesus Christ. I think one of the most poignant passages in all of Scripture is Luke 19. Jesus Christ is making his triumphal entry to Jerusalem at the beginning of passion week and we read, in Verses 41-42, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.’”

Marc Roby: That is a frightening thought, to reach the point where there is no more opportunity to find peace with God.

Dr. Spencer: It is an absolutely terrifying prospect. And it is my sincere prayer that God will grant everyone who listens to this podcast a broken heart to see their need for Jesus Christ. That they may come to know this peace that passes all human understanding, both now and eternally.

Marc Roby: I think that is a wonderful place to end for today. So let me remind our listeners that can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer.

 

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

[2] Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 173

[3] Ibid, pg. 464

[4] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 443

[5] E.g., see D. Kleyn & J. Beeke, Reformation Heroes, Reformation Heritage Books, 2009, pg. 24

[6] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Two Volumes in one, Baker Books, 1996, Vol. II, pg. 79

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Marc Roby: Before we begin today, Dr. Spencer and I want to wish all of our listeners a blessed 2019. It is our prayer that God will draw you to himself and build you up in the most holy faith. We’d love to hear how God is using this podcast in your life and invite you to email your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

And now let’s resume our study of systematic theology by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of holiness. Last time we looked at God’s revelation to the prophet Isaiah. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend some more time on the revelation given to Isaiah, but with a different emphasis. Last time we focused on the impact God’s holiness has on us as sinful creatures.

Marc Roby: Which is that it should drive us to our knees in fear and trembling and cause us to cry out with the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” [1] (Acts 16:30)

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the response we should have. But today I want to focus more on what this attribute tells us about the being of God.

Marc Roby: We already know that his holiness means he is separate from his creation, and that he is morally perfect.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, as we discussed in Session 71, God is the ultimate standard for what is morally right, just as he is the ultimate standard for what is true or what is good. There is however, more that we can learn about the being of God from his holiness. But before we get into that, it is important to note that this is the only attribute of God ever repeated three times in the Bible. Remember that in Isaiah 6:3 the seraphs were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty”.

Marc Roby: And that repetition is for emphasis, right?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We do the same thing. For example, someone might describe a certain task as not just being difficult, but being very, very difficult. But here we have the word holy repeated three times, which is why you sometimes hear God referred to as the thrice holy God. It is a little bit like our printing something in bold italics and underlining it. We really want that thing to stand out. And so, God wants his attribute of holiness to stand out. The Bible never once refers to God as “love, love, love” or “wrath, wrath, wrath” or “mercy, mercy, mercy” for example. We need to be careful of course to not think that God’s holiness somehow diminishes the importance of his other attributes, but we clearly need to take it very seriously.

Marc Roby: One indication of the importance of holiness is that in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the apostle Paul describes those to whom he is writing as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy”.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. As we noted last time, Hebrews 12:14 tells us that “without holiness no one will see the Lord”. This is a common emphasis all through the Bible. God is holy and his people must be holy. And God is in the business of making us holy. In Ephesians 5:25-27 the apostle Paul commanded, “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.”

Marc Roby: There is a lot packed into those two verses.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. First, we see that Christ “gave himself up” to make the church holy, which speaks about his sacrificial death. Then, secondly, we read that he is cleansing his church “by the washing with water through the word”, which speaks about our being sanctified through reading and obeying the Bible, which is the word of God. And, thirdly, we see that Christ is going to present the church “to himself”. Interestingly, in John 10:29 and again in John 17:24 Christ refers to his people as being given to him by the Father. So both are true; God the Father gives us to the Son and God the Son purifies us to present us to himself. It is hard to grasp, but we are the Father’s gift to the Son.

Marc Roby: It is astounding grace that the Son would want such a gift!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But it is a little easier to understand when you realize that he doesn’t want us just the way we are. He wants us the way we will be when he is done working in us. Jesus Christ will not be our Savior if he is not also our Lord. And as our Lord he is at work transforming us. In Romans 8:29 we read that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” This being conformed to the likeness of Christ is the process of sanctification, which all true believers go through. We will talk about this more in our next session, but for now I want to focus on this idea that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Which is not something many modern churches talk about.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right about that. There is a completely unbiblical idea that is very common in the modern church, which says that I can accept Jesus as my Savior without also having him as my Lord. But there are two fatal problems with that thinking. The first is that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe whether we acknowledge that fact or not.

Marc Roby: And even if we don’t choose to voluntarily acknowledge that fact in this life, we will when it comes time for judgment. Philippians 2:9-11 tell us that “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a scary thought; if you reject Christ now, on the day of judgment you will confess him as Lord and then go to hell. But getting back to our topic, the second fatal problem with the thinking that Jesus can be your Savior without being your Lord is that the Bible makes it absolutely clear he must be your Lord or you do not belong to him and he did not die for you. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus himself told us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” We can call Jesus Lord, we may think he is our Savior, but on the day of judgment only those who have done the will of the Father enter the kingdom of heaven. In other words, only those who have obeyed.

Marc Roby: Jesus also said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the same idea. We could go on, but we made this point before and will get to it again in our next session, so for now let me just say that the biblical case is so strong that if one of our listeners is struggling with the idea that obedience is necessary, my best counsel is to take a week and sit down and read through the New Testament, making note of how may times and in how many ways it says that you must obey if you are God’s children.

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, our works play no part in earning salvation. But if we are not living a changed life, striving for obedience out of love for God, then we have not been changed. We are not born again, and we will not be in heaven.

Marc Roby: And that fact is intimately linked with the holiness of God since heaven is where God is in the fullest sense.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. James Boice, in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith, points out that the Bible “calls God holy more than anything else. Holy is the epithet most often affixed to his name. Also we read that God alone is holy.”[2] Now, in saying that God alone is holy he is referring to the first meaning we have discussed for the word holy; namely, that of separation from creation. And that is why I wanted to spend some more time on this attribute, I want to emphasize this dominant aspect.

Boice points out that people tend to think of holiness mostly in terms of morality and, therefore, as something that admits to degrees. One person can be a little more or less holy than someone else.

Marc Roby: When we do that, it is our natural, that is to say sinful, tendency to pick particular behaviors to focus on so that we come out on top.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what we tend to do. If someone has no trouble with putting on weight, there is a tendency for that person to be judgmental toward those who are overweight. If we have been blessed with good jobs and financial security, it is easy to look down on someone who has troubles with personal debt. And the list can go on and on. I am not diminishing the fact that gluttony and fiscal irresponsibility are sins, but I think you get my point. Our natural sinful tendency is to minimize our own sins and to be more judgmental toward the sins of others.

Marc Roby: And such thinking leads to thinking less of other people and more of yourself, which is the opposite of true Christian character.

Dr. Spencer: And when people think about holiness only in these terms, they also tend to think of God as just better than they are, but not completely different than they are. But the reality is that he is radically different – it isn’t just a matter of degree. Which is why Isaiah was undone when he saw God as we learned in our last session.

Marc Roby: And while Isaiah’s experience may be the most exalted view of God given to anyone in the Bible, he was not the only person who had the experience of coming face-to-face, so to speak, with the holy God. I am thinking of Job’s confrontation with God, where Job declared, in Job 40:4-5, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another great example. Putting his hand over his mouth was a polite way of saying that he shut up. And in Job 42:5-6 he proclaimed “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

We must come to grips with what is truly meant by the holiness of God, and when we do, we too will be quiet and repent. Boice writes that “in its original and most fundamental sense, holy is not an ethical concept at all. Rather it means that which is of the very nature of God and which therefore distinguishes him from everything else. It is what sets God apart from his creation. It has to do with his transcendence.”[3]

Marc Roby: And to be transcendent means to go beyond normal limits or to be beyond comprehension, or to not be subject to the limitations of our physical universe.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, those ideas can all apply. Boice goes on to say that holiness “is the characteristic of God that sets him apart from his creation. In this, holiness has at least four elements.” And he then goes on to present the four elements, which he says are: first, majesty, second, will, third, wrath and fourth, righteousness. The fourth element, righteousness, refers to the moral aspect of holiness and we don’t need to spend more time on that now.

Marc Roby: And majesty is also fairly clear. It refers to having sovereign power and authority, great dignity or grandeur. But what does Boice mean by saying one element of God’s holiness is will?

Dr. Spencer: I would summarize this point by saying that he is referring to the fact that God has personality. He wants to avoid any cold notion of holiness as an abstract concept. We must remember that God is personal. He has his sovereign will and he acts in accordance with it. For example, as we saw a couple of minutes ago from Philippians 2:9-11, it is God’s will that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Alright. What about wrath? I doubt that many of our listeners would have mentioned that as an aspect of God’s holiness.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that quite a few would have left that off of their list. But many others agree with Boice on this point. Wrath is, as Boice put it, “an essential part of God’s holiness”[4]. He also points out that we must guard against thinking of God’s wrath in human terms. It is not an emotional response to some personal affront. Boice writes that “It is, rather, that necessary and proper stance of the holy God to all that opposes him.”[5] R.C. Sproul wrote that “If there is no wrath in God, then there is no justice in God. If there is no justice in God, then there is no goodness in God. And if there is no goodness in God, then there is no God. A God without wrath is not God.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s a very strong statement. But I see the logic. I think it could be rephrased by saying that in order to be just, God must punish sin, which means he must have wrath in the sense that Boice noted, namely that of being the “necessary and proper stance of the holy God to all that opposes him.”

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a fair restatement. And it agrees with what God tells us in his word. In Romans 3:25-27 we read in part that “God presented him [meaning Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” In other words, sin, which is opposition to God, must be punished for God to be just. Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for his chosen people, which is called substitutionary atonement. He took the punishment that they deserved, which satisfies God’s wrath and allows God to declare those who are united to Christ by faith just, meaning that the penalty due them for their sin has been paid.

Marc Roby: I remember we mentioned these verses in Session 73 as a great example of God’s justice, love and wisdom all working together.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did mention them then. And we could have mentioned God’s wrath as well, because his wrath is not only an aspect of his holiness, but it is also obviously intimately linked with his justice. Sin must be punished by a holy and just God because it is opposition to him and he is the sovereign Lord.

Marc Roby: You mentioned before that Jesus is Lord whether people acknowledge that fact or not.

Dr. Spencer: And the lordship of God is a fundamental aspect of who God is, although that statement doesn’t do his lordship justice, it is far more than just an aspect of who God is. As the Creator and Judge of the universe he has created, he can’t be anything other than the Lord of his creation. The theologian John Frame writes that “God’s lordship is grounded in his eternal nature, and therefore in his attributes.”[7]

Frame has an interesting discussion about God’s attributes in The Doctrine of God. He writes that “We should think about God’s attributes as servants, within the covenant relationship.”[8] I don’t want to go too far off track here, but his point is that as creatures we think about God in language and concepts that we can understand, but at the same time these are based on God’s revelation to us, so they tell us things about God that are true.

Marc Roby: And, to stay on track with our current discussion, God certainly does reveal himself as holy, in fact thrice holy as we have seen in Isaiah 6:3.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And although God’s lordship can be related to a number of God’s essential attributes, I think it is natural for us to talk about it in the context of his holiness because God’s holiness speaks about his being completely set apart from his creation, and by definition lordship also speaks about being completely set apart, to be more specific, to be above, to be in control.

Marc Roby: It sounds as though we are getting ready to switch topics. Talking about God’s holiness in terms of his being separate from his creation has led us to the concept of his lordship.

Dr. Spencer: We are about ready to switch, but we’ll have just a bit more to say about holiness next time first.

Marc Roby: Alright, I look forward to that, but we’re out of time for today.

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

[2] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 125

[3] Ibid, pg. 126

[4] Ibid, pg. 128

[5] Ibid

[6]R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, P&R Publishing Co., 2006, Vol. 2, pg. 283

[7]John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 388

[8] Ibid, pg. 390

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[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today with a special Christmas message based on God’s communicable attribute of love, which we saw last time can be considered an aspect of his goodness.

But before we begin I want to let our listeners know that we also have a Christmas present to offer to you. If you go to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, you can request a free copy of the book Rediscovering the True Meaning of Christmas, by Rev. P.G. Mathew. It is filled with great encouragement and hope for the people of God. This book will be available for free from now until the end of the month.

Dr. Spencer, we ended last time by introducing the context for what may be the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did start looking at that, and I pointed out that the first word in that verse is often ignored. That first word “for” tells us that this verse is providing some explanation for the verses that preceded it. In this case, Christ had been telling Nicodemus that a person has to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven and concluded, in Verses 14 and 15, by saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” So, John 3:16 is explaining these verses.

In his commentary on John’s gospel, Mark Johnston writes this about John 3:16, “Why did the sinless Son of God have to suffer in such a way? John supplies the answer, and his answer is more staggering even than the brutalities of the cross. In what must be the best known words of Scripture, John says, ‘For God so loved the world…’”.[2]

Marc Roby: That statement is, as he put it, staggering. But Verse 14 mentions Moses lifting up the snake in the desert, and I suspect many of our listeners may not know that bit of history.

Dr. Spencer: You’re probably right. Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, who was a religious leader in Jerusalem, so he knew that Nicodemus would be familiar with the history, but we should give the background for those of our listeners who don’t remember.

Marc Roby: Alright, well let me begin. Jesus’ mention of the snake in the desert refers back to events that took place during the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert after God had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt. We read in Numbers 21:4-6 that “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’ Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.”

Dr. Spencer: And we see, as always, that sin brings trouble. And their sin was great. God had delivered them from slavery, was providing food daily in the desert and had previously provided water miraculously, so they had no good reason to doubt that he could do so again. Nevertheless, they weren’t satisfied with God’s provisions and grumbled against God and his representative, Moses.

Marc Roby: I fear that we too often think we somehow deserve more and fail to appreciate God’s blessings as well.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that. But the people got one very important thing right; they properly understood that these snakes were sent by God as judgment against them for their sin. So, in Verse 7 we read, “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.”

And God was very gracious to them, although he didn’t simply take the snakes away. It is often the case that God does not take our troubles away, but he gives us grace to bear up under them and uses them to discipline, purify and strengthen us.

Marc Roby: The Bible often uses the metaphor of gold being refined by fire.

Dr. Spencer: And no one likes the fire of troubles, but even the secular world has an expression that admits the truth, there is no gain without pain.

Marc Roby: An unpopular truth.

Dr. Spencer: So it is. Numbers 21 goes on to tell us, in Verses 8-9 “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

Marc Roby: That is a great display of God’s mercy to his people.

Dr. Spencer: It most definitely is. But we must recognize that there certainly wasn’t any magical power attached to the bronze snake itself, this was just God’s way of making the people realize that they had sinned and pointing them to the fact that they needed to look to him for forgiveness and healing.

Marc Roby: And yet, even though there wasn’t any power in the bronze snake itself, it is interesting to note that it later became a snare to the Israelites. Sometime in the late eighth century before Christ, during the reign of the godly King Hezekiah, we read in 2 Kings 18:4 that Hezekiah “removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)”

Dr. Spencer: It is a manifestation of man’s sinful nature that he seems to constantly be looking for a God that can be manipulated. We want some simple ceremony, or something we can do that is supposed to obligate God to bless us with a particular response. In other words, we want a vending machine god; you put in your 1-minute prayer, or you perform a particular religious ceremony and he is obligated to bless you in some way. But God will not be manipulated by us. He does offer unimaginable mercy and blessings, but we must be conscious of the Creator/creature distinction. God makes the rules, not us.

The original purpose of the bronze snake was to cause the people to see their sin and their need for God. The snake itself was only a symbol. And God was gracious in not simply removing the snakes from the people. Had he done that, it would have been much easier for the people to forget that God delivered them from this pain.

Marc Roby: We are all too quick to forget God’s mercies. It is also important to note that the snake was a type of Christ, meaning that it was a symbol that pointed to Christ in some way. We talked about typology like this in Session 44.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did. And this is one of the clearest examples of typology in the Bible. Jesus himself tells us that this event in the desert pointed to his sacrifice on the cross in the verses we’ve been examining. Remember that John 3:14-15 say, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life”. And then, immediately after those verses, we read 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.”

Marc Roby: And we now have the necessary background to understand that verse correctly.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. This is the gospel message, the good news. This is the real reason for celebrating Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ is an amazing event, but the reason God sent his eternal Son into the world to be born of a poor virgin in the backwater town of Bethlehem was so that he could live a sinless life and then willingly go to the cross, bearing the wrath of God and dying to pay for the sins of everyone who will believe in him. As Jesus himself said in contemplating his crucifixion, in John 12:27, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

Marc Roby: That is incredible. Christ’s willingness to die, and to endure the wrath of God in our stead, that’s something I will never understand, but for which I am eternally grateful.

Dr. Spencer: Christ’s love is impossible to fathom. And John 3:16 gives us the reason that God gave his one and only Son, it was because he, meaning the Father, “so loved the world”. It was the love of the Father that necessitated Jesus humbling himself and becoming incarnate, and then giving his life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Marc Roby: Modern people don’t like this idea of God requiring a sacrifice.

Dr. Spencer: No, they don’t. But God is just and holy and cannot simply forgive sin by winking at it. His eternally perfect justice requires that sin be paid for, and that requires a sacrifice. There is an important word in John 3:14 that it is easy to overlook. The verse says that “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up”. That word must is critically important. It is the Greek word δεῖ (dei), and it means that it was necessary for this to be done. There was no other option. It was a divine necessity to satisfy God’s justice.

Marc Roby: Yes, Paul tells us about this divine necessity in Romans 3:25 and 26. He wrote that “God presented him [speaking of Christ,] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the best verse to demonstrate this necessity. In order to be just, in other words to fill the demands of his own eternally perfect justice, and yet to justify those who have faith in Jesus, which here refers to a legal judgment that they are ‘not guilty’, it was necessary that Jesus Christ be presented as a sacrifice of atonement. The Greek word translated here as “sacrifice of atonement” is ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion), which means propitiation. As John Murray explains, “Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[3]

Marc Roby: People also don’t like the idea that God is justifiably displeased with us and wrathful toward us.

Dr. Spencer: No, they don’t. This is the bad news that we must acknowledge before we can receive the good news of the gospel. We are sinners and cannot save ourselves. God is justifiably angry with us and we are, therefore, subject to his wrath. When people reject this bad news, they unwittingly reject the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ along with it.

Marc Roby: Most people seem to think that God should simply forgive our sins without anyone being punished.

Dr. Spencer: That does seem to be the case. But P.G. Mathew explained the biblical idea of justification as presented in Romans 3, he wrote, “Justification is not amnesty, which is pardon without principle. It is not seeing bad people as good people. Justification is based on God’s justice demonstrated in the life and death of Christ. The wrath of God against elect sinners was poured out on God’s innocent Son, the spotless Lamb of God. Without the cross, the justification of the unjust would be unjustified, immoral, and impossible.”[4]

Marc Roby: Of course, we don’t like to admit that we are wretched sinners.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a serious problem. Our society tells us from the cradle on up that people are all basically good at heart. But that is a lie, which even a quick glance at the morning newspaper will confirm. That lie leads to people thinking of Jesus as just a good moral teacher. Christmas then becomes a time to celebrate the birth of this good moral teacher who gave us an example of a humble life. But that is not what the Bible tells us. It is not the truth. The truth is, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and as he wrote in Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men”. And because of these facts, we need a sacrifice of atonement.

Marc Roby: And Jesus Christ is that sacrifice of atonement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he is. But I think people sometimes view God the Father as this mean and angry God of wrath and then they picture Jesus as kind and gentle person and think that he comes along and cajoles the Father, perhaps even somewhat against the Father’s will, to not destroy his people. But that picture is completely and totally unbiblical. The Bible makes it clear that it is the love of the Father that is the ultimate cause of our salvation. It is the Father who gives his Son, so it is the Father that is referred to when John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world”.

Marc Roby: Now that is an amazing fact. That God would love rebellious sinners. And, of course, it is not just the Father, Jesus also loves us. In fact, he told us in John 15:13 that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. And Romans 5:5 tells us that “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” So we conclude from this verse and the unity of the godhead that the Holy Spirit also loves us. We also know that it is the particular work of the Holy Spirit to apply to us the redemption which God the Father planned and God the Son accomplished on the cross. All three persons of the godhead are involved in our salvation.

Marc Roby: Now, when we celebrate Christmas we properly focus on Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, but we also need to remember the triune nature of God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But let me go back to the verse you read from John 15 and put it in context. In Verses 12 through 14 Jesus tells us, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

I want us to note that we can’t think of Jesus Christ as a helpless baby in a manger, or just as a dying Savior on the cross. We need to remember that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe and he commands us to love each other as he has loved us.

Marc Roby: That’s an impossibly tall order.

Dr. Spencer: It is impossible for us in this life because we still have the vestiges of our sinful nature with us. But that is the standard to which we are to aspire. And notice that Christ said we are his friends if we do what he commands. Obedience is not optional. Our obedience does not earn our salvation in any way, but it is necessary to prove that we do, in fact, belong to Jesus.

Marc Roby: It’s a good thing that our obedience doesn’t earn our salvation, because our obedience is never perfect in this life.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why the great theologian Charles Hodge wrote that “As portrayed in Scripture, the inward life of the people of God to the end of their course in this world, is a repetition of conversion. It is a continued turning unto God; a constant renewal of confession, repentance, and faith; a dying unto sin, and living unto righteousness.”[5]

In other words, we don’t just confess and repent once, professing faith in Christ and then go on living the same old way. If we have been born again, we see our sin more and more clearly as time goes on and we see even more than before those things we need to repent of, and our need for faith, and we strive to put our sin to death and live righteous lives that please God.

Marc Roby: Just like the Israelites in the desert would see their need for God when they were bitten by a snake, and then they would then acknowledge that need by looking to the bronze snake on the pole.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. That look demonstrated their confession, repentance and faith in God to heal them. And notice that when God brings trouble into our lives it is a great mercy if it causes us to see our need for God more clearly.

Marc Roby: And then, if we turn to him in repentance and faith, he shows us even greater mercy by forgiving our sin.

Dr. Spencer: And he does all of that on the basis of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. God is loving and merciful, but he is also just and holy. Our sins must be paid for; either by us, or by Christ. Most people focus on giving and receiving gifts at Christmas, but the real meaning is that God has offered to us the greatest gift that can ever be given to anyone, the gift of salvation. But we must see our need for it. If we think that our good works, or even our faith, will save us, we are as lost as Nicodemus was before Christ explained to him that he, and we, must be born again.

We need to receive the bad news that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” as the prophet Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 17:9. If we acknowledge that fact, repent and turn to Jesus Christ, trust in him alone as our Savior and obey him as our Lord, then God, in his rich mercy, will adopt us as his sons and daughters and bring us into his glorious presence for all eternity. That is the Christmas gift that God offers to us. And it’s my prayer that God will grant that gift to everyone who listens to this message.

Marc Roby: I join with you in that prayer. And that concludes this week’s podcast. As always, we encourage our listeners to email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

 

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

[2] Mark Johnston, Let’s Study John, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2003, pg. 50

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

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 130

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, Eerdmans, 1997, pg. 247

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of truthfulness.

Before we begin I’d like to let our listeners know that we have added a new feature to the website for this podcast. At the top of the transcript for every session, including all previous sessions, is a link to a pdf file for the session. You are free to download, save and share these files with others. In addition, if you go to the Archive link at the top of the home page for whatdoesthewordsay.org, you will also find links to pdf versions of three indexes. An index of references, an index of topics, and an index of Scriptures. These are updated with each new podcast. And now, let’s get back to our topic.

Dr. Spencer, we finished last time by noting that God is truth in all three of the meanings of that term; that is, metaphysical, propositional and ethical. What do you want to look at today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to discuss the topic of ethical truth a little more. Remember that ethics refers to the set of moral rules that govern how we live. In my experience, most people seem to agree with the idea that morality is absolute. They may say that morality can be different in different cultures, but then they will strongly denounce and even work to change practices they disagree with, even practices in other countries with completely different cultures.

So, for example, I doubt that very many women in the United States would have said that it was just a matter of culture and not a problem when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan and prevented women from working, attending school, or being in public places without a male family member.

Marc Roby: I’m quite sure you are right about that. Women, and most men as well, would agree that such rules are a violation of basic human rights.

Dr. Spencer: I think they would. So, independent of the politically correct postmodern notion that truth and morality are social constructs and vary from culture to culture, we see that most people prove by their actions that they firmly believe in moral absolutes. This is especially true when you discuss hot-button issues like abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and so on.

The problem, as I demonstrated by talking about slavery last time and Hitler in the session before that, is that without God, there is no absolute authority anyone can point to as a basis for these moral absolutes. Therefore, if atheism were true, morality would be determined solely by the group with the power to enact and enforce the laws in a given time and place and we would have no basis for saying that the laws put in place by the Taliban were wrong.

Marc Roby: And, even within one culture, laws change over time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they do. Is that because what is moral changes over time? I think most people would say it does not. But, when you and I were young, it was illegal to be a practicing homosexual in this country, it was illegal to get an abortion, and it was out of the question for same-sex couples to get married. And yet, a large percentage of our population, including some who call themselves Christians, now approve of such practices and they are legal. In fact, if you disagree with these practices, the so-called progressives will call you hateful and send you to sensitivity training to try and correct your socially aberrant views.

Marc Roby: It is really difficult to believe how much has changed since the 1950’s.

Dr. Spencer: It is unbelievable how much they have changed. But, independent of what any of our listeners may think about such changes, I challenge them, as I did when we talked about slavery, to explain – without reference to God – on what logical basis someone could say that we are right now and the people were wrong 60 years ago? Or that the people were right 60 years ago and we are wrong now?

Marc Roby: I don’t think that’s possible without reference to God.

Dr. Spencer: And that is my point. Without God, it isn’t possible. In fact man, because he is a creature, has no authority to decide for himself what is right or wrong. God alone has the authority to tell us what is sin and what is pleasing to him, and he has done that in the Bible. And, not only has God clearly told us what behavior he approves, he has clearly warned us of the penalty for disobedience. The moral laws are no different than any other laws in the sense that there is a penalty to be paid for violating them.

Marc Roby: But, there is a huge difference between God’s enforcement of his laws and the state’s enforcement of our civil laws.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. In fact, there are at least three major differences I can think of.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: The first is that God does not always enforce his laws immediately, or even in this life. For his own purposes he sometimes allows people to do wicked things without being justly punished in this life. Of course the state also fails to punish people sometimes, but only because the state is incapable of perfectly enforcing its laws.

But, even though God may choose to not enforce his laws immediately, the second major difference I see is that God does, ultimately, enforce his laws absolutely perfectly. He has perfect knowledge of everything and everyone, including our thoughts and motives and he is absolutely sovereign, so no violation of his law will ever go unpunished. Every single sin ever committed will receive the punishment that justice demands. Either we will be punished for our sins or, if we have accepted God’s gracious offer of forgiveness based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ, Jesus will have borne the penalty for our sins on the cross.

Marc Roby: Which is absolutely amazing grace. What is the third difference you see in God’s enforcement of his laws versus the state’s enforcement of its laws?

Dr. Spencer: God’s penalty for disobedience is far more severe than the greatest penalty man can mete out. People don’t like the doctrine of hell, but it is a clear teaching of the Bible. If you are a Christian, you really have no option but to believe that hell exists. You don’t have to take my word for it, read your Bible. Jesus Christ himself spoke of eternal hell more than anyone else. You have to do exegetical backflips, or simply not believe God’s Word, to not believe in eternal hell.

Marc Roby: But, of course, different sins will not all receive the same punishment.

Dr. Spencer: No, they won’t. The Bible indicates that there are different levels of punishment in hell. But no matter the level of punishment, hell is a terrible place, and it is eternal, with no hope of escape.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, one of the main reasons many people reject the doctrine; it seems completely unfair to punish people eternally.

Dr. Spencer: Well, I don’t personally like the doctrine either. But God didn’t ask me, and he isn’t going to, and, more to the point, what I think doesn’t matter. I am a sinner and don’t fully grasp God’s holiness and the depth of sin. What does matter is that we grasp the fact that even the smallest sin you can imagine is motivated by a rebellious heart, and that rebellion is against the infinite, almighty, all holy, perfectly just Creator, so it deserves eternal punishment. Not only that, but people in hell do not repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Without his saving grace they cannot do so. Therefore, they continue to hate him and rail against him in their hearts, which increases their guilt every day.

Marc Roby: Hell is an unpleasant topic to say the least, but I think we have said enough about God being the one who has authority to establish moral law, that he will, ultimately, judge everyone, and that we will all either receive mercy based on the merit of Jesus Christ, or be eternally punished for our sin.

So, we have now established that God is truth in all three biblical senses of the term: he is metaphysical truth because he is the genuine God, he is epistemological, or propositional, truth because all that he says is perfectly true, and he is ethical truth because he establishes and enforces the moral law. What else do you want to say about God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: It is important to point out that God’s moral law is not arbitrary. It is based on God’s own character, it is a reflection of his perfect character. And we are made in God’s image and are made for fellowship with him. So, obeying God’s moral law is what is best for us. A Christian should delight in God’s moral law, even if it goes against what the person has believed all of his or her life prior to becoming a Christian. Romans 12:2 commands us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [1]

Marc Roby: And our minds are renewed by meditating on God’s Word and submitting to it as our ultimate authority.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. Our minds are very important. Christianity is not all about feeling. Feelings are there of course, and they are important. But our emotions are not to rule us in any way. Our minds – which really means our spirits – are to rule us, and our minds are to be submitted fully to the Word of God. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 the apostle Paul tell us, “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.” Therefore, it doesn’t matter what I think about homosexuality for example, nor does it matter what society says. God says it is sin. And unrepentant sinners will go to hell. Therefore, the only loving thing for me to do with a homosexual is to tell that person of God’s law and of the consequences for violating that law, and then to tell him or her that Jesus Christ has provided a way to be saved.

Marc Roby: But, that salvation requires true biblical repentance.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does, and true biblical repentance requires forsaking our sin and walking in holiness. It does not, praise God, require perfection or none of us would be saved. But when we sin, we must repent and ask for forgiveness and, as Paul said in Acts 26:20, prove our repentance by our deeds.

Marc Roby: And praise God that he has made salvation possible. Do you want to say anything else about God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I have a three more short points make. First, in examining God’s truthfulness, we again see God’s simplicity.

Marc Roby: We should remind our listeners that by God’s simplicity we mean the fact that his attributes cannot be thought of separately, they all work together.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And with regard to God’s truthfulness, we have argued that he is truth in the propositional sense precisely because he has the power necessary to make what he thinks is true actually be true. And, even more than that, when you look at the different possible meanings of the word true, you see that God’s truthfulness also includes his perfect knowledge in knowing what it means to be the only true God, his faithfulness in always keeping his word, his unchangeableness in not changing his word, his moral perfection in establishing and enforcing the moral law and so on.

Marc Roby: It is clear that his attributes all work together. And it makes me remember Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which we have mentioned before. The answer to that question says, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” But, you said you had three more points to make, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second point I want to make is that God’s truthfulness was what Satan challenged when he first tempted Eve. We read about this in Genesis Chapter 3. The serpent came to Eve and asked, in Verse 1, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Of course, that is not what God had said. God had said that they could eat of any tree in the garden with the sole exception of one tree. But, as James Boice points out in his commentary on Genesis, Satan’s question was meant “to suggest that God is not benevolent and that His word cannot be trusted.”[2]

Marc Roby: Now, we must say that Eve didn’t completely accept Satan’s suggestion. She answered, in Verses 2 and 3, that “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, you’re right, she didn’t accept Satan’s lie completely, but notice that his lie had already borne some fruit; she added to God’s word by saying “you must not touch it”. God had not said that. He had said that the day you eat of it you will die, not that you will die if you touch it. In any event, Satan then goes on to directly contradict God. He says, in Verse 4, “You will not surely die”. And then he gives his false explanation for God’s prohibition. He says, in Verse 5, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” John Murray explains that at this point, Satan “accuses God of deliberate falsehood and deception. God has perpetrated a lie, he avers, because he is jealous of his own selfish and exclusive possession of the knowledge of good and evil!”[3]

Marc Roby: And, sadly, Eve believed Satan. We read in the first part of Verse 6 that “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the sad truth. Paul writes about this in 1 Timothy 2:14. He wrote that “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” But Adam is a different story. He was not deceived, his sin was far worse for at least two reasons. First, it was worse because he was the one put in charge by God and he was the representative for the human race. Greater responsibility always implies greater culpability. And secondly, he sinned out of pure rebellion against God as James Boice notes.[4] This is why Scripture always lays the blame for the fall on Adam, not on Eve. In Romans 5:12 we read that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” and Verse 14 clearly tells us that one man is Adam.

Marc Roby: Paul also tells us this in 1 Corinthians 15:22 where he says that “in Adam all die”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. But, let’s get back to the point I wanted to make about God’s truthfulness, which is simply this; it is an absolutely essential aspect of the being of God. If God were not truthful, then having his infallible word would be of no real value. How would we be able to tell which parts where true and which were lies? And his threats and promises would have no value either, how would we know that they were true? Now, it must be said that God’s other attributes are essential too. For example, if he were not omnipotent we couldn’t be sure that he had the power to keep his threats and promises. But his truthfulness somehow seems to more directly impinge on his holiness, justice, goodness and so on.

That is why Satan didn’t question God’s power to bring death, nor did he question God’s knowledge about the tree, instead he directly questioned God’s truthfulness. A God who is not truthful is no god, he is a devil.

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ himself said to the Jews, as we read in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Dr. Spencer: And, a little earlier in the same discourse he had said that “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Marc Roby: I see your point. Truth is an essential characteristic of the true and living God and is essential for salvation. Lies destroy, truth saves.

Dr. Spencer: We see that even in more mundane matters. If you go to see the doctor and he determines that you have cancer, that isn’t something you want to hear. But if he lies and says you’re fine, you’ll die. If he tells you the truth, then perhaps it can be treated and you may live.

Marc Roby: Very well. You said you had three points to make, what is the third?

Dr. Spencer: It is that because truth is so important, and lies are the “native language” of the devil, we, as Christians must be zealous to know and speak truth. John Murray, in his Principles of Conduct, wrote, “This is why all untruth or falsehood is wrong; it is a contradiction of that which God is.”[5]

Marc Roby: Being truthful is not a common characteristic in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. But a Christian must be. That does not mean that we have to tell everyone all of the truth all of the time of course, but when we do say something, we must seek to convey truth.

Marc Roby: I notice you didn’t simply say that when we do say something it must be true, you said we must seek to convey truth. I assume you have a reason for the more complex statement?

Dr. Spencer: I do. You can tell something that is completely true with the intent of leading people to believe something that isn’t true. But, when you do that, you are lying. The classical biblical example is Abraham telling people that Sarah was his sister. That statement was true, but he said it to make them think that she wasn’t his wife. In other words, it is the best possible kind of lie! If you’re caught, you can always say that what you said was true, even though your purpose was to deceive.

Marc Roby: Alright. Are we done discussing God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: I think so.

Marc Roby: Then let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We are out of time for today.

 

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

[2] James M. Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, 1982, Vol. I, pg. 134

[3] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg. 126

[4] Boice, op. cit., pg. 136

[5] Murray, op. cit., pg. 125

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the four characteristics of the Bible represented by the acrostic SNAC, which stands for sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity. We’ve examined sufficiency and necessity in our last two sessions. So, Dr. Spencer, are we moving on to authority today?

Dr. Spencer: Not right away. I’m going to cover clarity first because authority is a longer topic and will lead into some other things.

Marc Roby: Alright. When we say that the Bible is clear. What do we mean?

Dr. Spencer: Perhaps we should start with what we don’t mean first. We do not mean that all of Scripture is easy to understand.

Marc Roby: I’m glad to hear that!

Dr. Spencer: So am I. And we are in good company, because in 2 Peter 3:16 the apostle comments on some of the writings of Paul and says, “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” [1]

It’s important to take note of two things in Peter’s statement. First, he concedes that some of the things Paul was written, which are part of the Bible, are hard to understand. And secondly, he notes that people have distorted them, along with other Scriptures, which results in their own destruction.

Marc Roby: That certainly emphasizes how important it is for us to interpret the Scriptures properly. But, at first blush this verse also seems to argue against the clarity of Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. It does seem to, but only, as you put it, at first blush. That’s why I thought it would be best to address this point first. When we say that the Bible is clear, we do not mean that everything in it is easy, nor do we mean that you can read it like you might a novel or a newspaper and expect to understand it properly. We will get into proper methods of interpreting the Scriptures in a later session, but suffice it to say at this point that we must read the Bible carefully. Let me give an illustration.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: The main point I want to make is that when we are reading something that is challenging to understand, in any field, we can’t expect to read it once or twice and understand it fully. We need to do some more work.

For example, you can’t expect to understand the prophet Jeremiah if you don’t know at least a general outline of the history surrounding the writing of the book. You need to know when he was writing, to whom he was writing, and what was going on at the time.

Marc Roby: I always find it helpful to re-read the introduction to a prophetic book and go over the historical situation in my mind before I read it.

Dr. Spencer: I do the same thing. It’s important to take Bible reading seriously. You can read other things casually, but the Bible is the most important thing you will ever read. We need to study the Scriptures, not just read them. And that is true of every book in the Bible, not just Jeremiah. As you mature in your faith you will continue to learn more and more from commentaries, sermons and so on, so that you gain an understanding, for example, of some of the peculiarities of Hebrew writings and thought. You also become more and more familiar with the different people in the Bible so, for example, you will understand the impetuous nature of the apostle Peter. And you become more familiar with the historical situations and you know more about what happens before and after the section you’re currently reading. All of these details help you to pick up more and more each time you read through the Bible.

Marc Roby: I can certainly agree with that. I’ve been reading the Bible for over 40 years now and I learn more each time I go through it.

Dr. Spencer: I am confident that anyone who approaches the Word of God with a serious desire to know what God is saying will gain a deeper understanding every single time they read through it. We must remember that even though God used human authors, ultimately, the Bible was written by the Almighty, Sovereign Creator and Judge of the universe and it speaks about how to be saved from his eternal wrath. We need to keep that in mind as we read. It is way more serious than learning what you need to know to pass some test in college, or even to pass a medical board exam, or a CPA exam, or whatever. So, get some help. A good study Bible is a reasonable place to start, for example, in Session 23 I recommended the ESV Reformation Study Bible. I would also recommend that you follow a systematic plan to read through the whole Bible. And if you haven’t done it before, I would recommend reading all of the study notes. I also keep a timeline that I’ve made for myself handy that shows me the different kings of Israel and Judah, the different prophets, a few major events in world history and so on so that I can keep things straight in my mind as I read. I also fairly frequently refer to a good Bible Atlas, for example the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible[2] is pretty good. A good Bible dictionary is also valuable. Again, I have found the Zondervan dictionary to be very useful.[3] I also take notes every morning, which I think helps to organize my thoughts and to be sure that I have something to take away from the reading each day.

Marc Roby: Very well, you’ve made the point we can’t just read the Bible like our daily newspaper, we need to be serious about learning what it teaches and study the Word of God. I think it is now apparent that when we say the Bible is clear, we don’t mean it is easy to understand. So, what do we mean when we say it is clear?

Dr. Spencer: When we say that the Bible is clear, what we mean is that the basic message of the gospel, that which must be understood to be saved, can be understood by a child, or someone with very little education, or someone who isn’t very bright.

Marc Roby: When you say it can be understood by a child, surely you don’t mean a very young child?

Dr. Spencer: Clearly there is a limit to how young the child can be. I wouldn’t want to speculate on a specific age, but obviously a toddler who can only say a few words is not able to understand the gospel. But a normal 10-year old certainly can. I don’t know where to draw the line between those points, and I’m certain it varies a lot from person to person. But, the point is that you don’t need to be a very bright, well-educated adult to understand the gospel, the basic message isn’t that complicated.

Marc Roby: Speaking about young children raises an interesting and important question, which I’d like to address even at the risk of throwing us off topic for a minute or two. What happens to a very young child who dies? Is it possible for a that child to be saved?

Dr. Spencer: It is definitely possible for a very young child, or even an infant to be saved. We don’t want to limit God. It appears from Luke 1:41 & 44 for example that John the Baptist was regenerated in the womb. And when the son of David and Bathsheba died as an infant, David said, in 2 Samuel 12:23, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

But, we are talking about the normal situation, where a person has grown to be sufficiently mature to think about these things, in other words, people like our listeners. And, in that case, the basic gospel message is clear, which is why we are commanded to teach our children. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, right after giving the people the Ten Commandments, Moses said to them “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Now, the Bible would not command us to teach them to our children if they were too complicated for a child to understand.

Marc Roby: And yet, even intelligent adults find the Bible’s plan of salvation incomprehensible if they are unbelievers.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We must never forget the point we made in Session 23, that no one can truly understand the Bible, by which I mean understand it unto salvation, unless that person has been born again. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The message of the cross is foolishness to the natural man because he has a moral problem, not an intellectual problem. He refuses to recognize the obvious truth that he is a sinful creature deserving of wrath and that God is the Creator of the universe and, therefore, has authority to tell us how we should live and to judge us for our failures.

Marc Roby: We noted before that in Romans 1 Paul actually says the unbeliever suppresses that truth.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The problem is not one of intellectual understanding. There are many very intelligent people, some of them pastors and seminary professors, who know a great deal about the Word of God, but don’t believe it.

Remember when Jesus was speaking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection? He somehow prevented them from recognizing him and was asking them about what had recently happened in Jerusalem – referring, of course, to his own death and resurrection. They told him what they knew, but it was obvious they didn’t understand or believe and he said to them, in Luke 24:25-26, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Notice that he didn’t say they were stupid, or ignorant of the facts, he said they were foolish – which is a moral judgment, not an intellectual one, and he said that they were “slow of heart”. In other words, the reason they didn’t understand was a moral failure, not an intellectual one.

Marc Roby: In Psalm 14:1 the we are told that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” I think there are many people who praise God that you don’t have to be an intellectual giant to be saved.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure there are, and I’m one of them. But, think about it for a minute. If you had to be a nobel laureate to be saved, then you would have a tendency to be proud. We could argue that point of course since whatever abilities and opportunities you have are gifts from God, not something you earned, but nevertheless, there would be something about you that helped to explain why you were saved, and that would lead to pride. So, God makes sure that that is not the case. In fact, he usually chooses people who are not particularly distinguished in the eyes of the world.

Paul tells us about this. In 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 we read, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

Marc Roby: That is not a particularly flattering picture of believers.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. But, if all believers were brilliant and accomplished, we would tend to think we have something to be proud of. So, God takes that possibility away. Paul tells us that God chose the “foolish things of the world … the weak things … the lowly things … the despised things … and the things that are not … so that no one may boast before him.” Now we can all rejoice that there are brilliant and accomplished Christians – Paul said “not many of you”, he didn’t say “not any of you.” These exceptional individuals are a blessing to the church. But, the point is that we aren’t saved because of our merit in any way. We are saved by grace alone, our good works are not in any way shape or form the basis of our salvation. And the biblical message of salvation is clear. It is clear, but it will not be received unless, and until the person is born again.

Marc Roby: And, of course, even truly born-again people don’t always agree on every detail.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true, and the many schisms in church history and the many different denominations in the world bear clear testimony to that fact. Sadly, Christians are still sinners. And, in addition, not everyone who claims to be a Christian is born again. Those two facts guarantee that there will always be troubles and divisions in the church that should not be there. But, even granted those two facts, there remain certain things that are not essential to saving faith about which true Christians can disagree, and there are some things about which the Bible is completely silent.

Marc Roby: Can you give us some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The Bible is silent about many details. For example, should we hold our worship services at 9 AM, or 10 AM, or should we have both a morning and an evening service? The Bible says nothing about that. In addition, the Bible is clear that we should not be drunk and should not be controlled by anything, but it is not clear that drinking an occasional beer or glass of wine, or smoking an occasional cigarette or cigar are sins, although some will say that they are. I think we must be mature enough to allow for differences on many issues.

Marc Roby: That sounds reasonable, and more important, biblical! Paul wrote in Romans 14:1 that we should not pass judgement about disputable matters. But, what about the role of pastors and teachers then? If the basic message of the Bible is clear and can be understood by every believer, what role do they have to play?

Dr. Spencer: They have a very important role to play. In Ephesians 4:11-14 the apostle Paul wrote that Christ “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.” So, pastors and teachers are very important. All Christians have the privilege and responsibility to know what the Word of God requires of them, and the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture says that we can all understand the essential points. But, not everyone has the natural ability or time to become an expert theologian, so pastors and teachers still fill a very important role in God’s church. We will talk more about this issue in a later podcast when we get to the reformation idea of the right to private judgment, which argued against the Roman Catholic Church’s claim that only the priests could interpret the Bible. However, this idea of a right to private judgment has often been abused. If I think I’m free to interpret the Scriptures however I want to, then I am almost certainly headed for destruction.

Marc Roby: Very well, I look forward to discussing that issue in more depth at a later date. But this concludes our time for today, so I want to remind our listeners to 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] Carl G. Rasmussen, Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, Revised Edition, Zondervan, 2010

[3] Either the New International Bible Dictionary, Zondervan, 1987; or for a much longer version, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (in five volumes), Zondervan, 1976

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the four characteristics of special revelation, that is the Bible. We introduced the acrostic SNAC, and last time we examined the S, which stands for sufficiency. We explained that the Bible provides sufficient revelation for salvation and for life, so that a person who has been born again has all that he or she needs to be saved and to live a life that’s pleasing to God.

The next characteristic described by SNAC is necessity. So, Dr. Spencer, what do we want to say about the necessity of special revelation?

Dr. Spencer: We first want to remind our listeners that the Bible is not necessary to know that God exists and to know something of his power and glory. As we noted last time, general revelation is sufficient for that purpose and is available to everyone, so no one has an excuse for not seeking God, as the apostle Paul argues in Romans 1.

But, the Bible’s revelation is absolutely necessary for salvation and to live a life pleasing to God. Let’s talk about salvation first. In Luke 10 we read a marvelous account of Jesus having fellowship with some of his disciples as he was on his way to Jerusalem, where he knew that he was going to be betrayed into the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities and crucified for the sins of his people. On the way he stopped at the home of his friend Martha, in Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. Martha was the sister of Mary and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. While Martha was distracted with the preparations for dinner, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him. And at one point, Martha came to them, clearly upset that Mary wasn’t helping, and said to Jesus “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  (Lk 10:40)[1] Jesus’ reply is very important. He said “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:41-42) His point is clear. We must do all sorts of things in this life, including preparing dinner, but there is only one thing that is truly needful. Life is short, and eternity never ends, so the only really essential thing in this life is to make sure that we are saved and will spend eternity in heaven, rather than hell.

Marc Roby: Alright, given that our eternal destiny is at stake, why then is the Bible necessary for salvation?

Dr. Spencer: It is necessary because, as Peter said about Jesus Christ in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” And the Bible is the only place we are told what we need to know about Jesus Christ and his work. We can know from extra-biblical sources of course that the person Jesus Christ lived, as we noted in Session 21. But the Bible is the only place we are told about the real meaning and significance of the person, life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is the only place that tells us that Jesus was not just a man, but was also God incarnate. It is the only place we are told that he lived a perfect, sinless life to fulfill the law and then offered himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of his people.  And it is the only place where we are told that if we repent of our sins and place our faith in Jesus Christ alone, we will be saved. As Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” To say that Jesus is Lord however, requires that we understand he is the unique God-man and that he is the Creator and Lord of the universe. And to believe that God raised him from the dead is a partial statement, but in the context of the whole passage, Paul is clearly referring to all of Christ’s saving work, his perfect life, sacrificial death and resurrection.

Marc Roby: The apostle Paul also notes the necessity of knowing the truth about Jesus Christ.  A bit later in Romans 10, in Verses 13 and 14 he writes “‘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?”

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, it is the gospel message of Jesus Christ that we are to preach. It is this message that is necessary for salvation. And the Bible is our only infallible source of knowledge. Knowledge about our own sinful nature, knowledge about God, and most importantly, knowledge about the only Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Now, many people are disturbed by the exclusive nature of this claim. They think that people who sincerely hold to other beliefs will also be saved and, therefore, it is entirely possible to be saved without hearing and believing the gospel. How would you respond to that statement?

Dr. Spencer: I would respond first by pointing out a clear difference between biblical Christianity and all other religions. Christianity is the only religion that tells us the truth; namely, that we are all sinful, deserving of God’s wrath, and unable to save ourselves. We need God to do something or we will certainly be lost. Every other purported way of salvation is based on man’s effort, we must do something to earn heaven. But that is impossible. We are sinners and cannot do anything to earn heaven. Sin incurs guilt, which is a debt that must be paid. If we were able to stop sinning completely, we could stop incurring further guilt, but our guilt for our previous sins would still be there. The penalty would still have to be paid. And, of course, no one ever completely stops sinning in this life either.

Marc Roby: I think many people believe that their good deeds and bad deeds will be put on a balance scale and, if the good deeds outweigh the bad, they will make it into heaven.

Dr. Spencer: That certainly is a common view. But, it is wrong for two reasons. First, God’s standard is perfection and he judges our motives and thoughts as well as our deeds. Since nothing we ever do is perfect, we have no good deeds to balance the bad. And second, the point I was just trying to make is that every sin must be punished. And God has decreed that the payment must be a blood sacrifice. God told Moses in Leviticus 17:11 that “the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

Marc Roby: I suspect most modern people consider that idea somewhat barbaric.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure that’s true. But we need to come to grips with just how serious sin is. It is cosmic rebellion and it must be atoned for. We recoil naturally from blood, partly because we are removed from the need to kill and prepare our own meat, but also because we intuitively understand that blood represents life. The fact that blood is required to atone for sin shows just how serious the problem really is. God cannot simply wink at sin.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that some would object and point out that we are called to forgive others, so why can’t God do the same?

Dr. Spencer: God cannot forgive sin without the penalty being paid because he is the judge of the universe. If I steal from someone who happens to be a judge, he can forgive me on a personal level. But, if the case comes before his court and I am found guilty of the crime, as judge he cannot simply say that he forgives me. Justice demands that I be given some form of punishment and he must abide by the laws of the state and sentence me appropriately. As Judge of the universe, God must do what is just and right according to his own laws, and the just and right penalty for breaking any of God’s laws is death—eternal death.

But, praise God, he paid the penalty for us. In what is probably the most famous of all Bible verses, John 3:16, we read that “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.” We must ask, “Why did God have to give his Son?” – which refers, of course, to his death on the cross. The answer is that the debt must be paid. Justice must be served. Either we must pay the debt, or it must be paid for us. But we are incapable of paying the debt, eternity in hell will not fully do it, so God chose to pay it for us. No other religion truly understands the need for an atoning sacrifice to pay the infinite penalty for our sins.

Marc Roby: And certainly no other religion reveals the truth that God has shown his incomparable love by atoning for our sins himself. It is humbling and amazing to think about God loving wretched sinners like us enough to punish his own eternal Son instead of us.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, it’s absolutely mind boggling. But, there is a flip side to this amazing love. To reject this gracious offer of God is terrible sin. People reject the offer because they don’t want to acknowledge that they are sinners, worthy of punishment. And they don’t want to acknowledge that God is the Supreme Lord of the universe. But, to reject this gracious offer is to show contempt for God’s grace. It is to call him a liar as John writes in 1 John 5:10, “Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.” That is why, if you go on in John Chapter 3 and look the next two verses, 17 and 18, you read, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: I remember one of our esteemed senators recently grilling a Christian nominee for public office because he had written something about people who didn’t believe in Christ being condemned already.

Dr. Spencer: I remember that questioning too. Apparently, that senator doesn’t know that our constitution expressly forbids any religious test for holding public office. But, returning to the topic of the necessity of the Bible for salvation. Given the fact that God has decreed that there is only one way of salvation, and given the fact that the Bible is the only place where we learn of Christ’s work of redemption, the Bible is absolutely essential for salvation.

Marc Roby: There is an obvious question I suspect some of our listeners are asking at this point. Since we must know what the Bible says about Jesus Christ to be saved, what about people who lived prior to Christ? How were they able to be saved?

Dr. Spencer: Salvation was available to the people who lived prior to Christ on the same basis it is available to us today, by faith in Christ. We look back on Christ and his completed work, but they were saved by looking forward to the promised Messiah. Remember that the Hebrew word Messiah and the Greek word Χριστός (Xristos), from which we get our word Christ, both mean anointed one. We spoke about the progressive nature of revelation in Session 6. We noted then that God gave the protoevangelium, meaning the first or original version of the gospel message, to Adam and Eve right after the fall. In Genesis 3:15 we read that God told Satan “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Marc Roby: And, as the term progressive implies, over time God revealed more and more about this Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And those whom God enabled by regeneration repented of their sins, placed their trust in the promises made to them, and lived their lives in humble, albeit imperfect, obedience to please God.  In Hebrews 11 we are told about a number of great Old Testament believers and, in verse 13, we read that “these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” In other words, they knew that they had an eternal home and they were looking forward to it. Their focus was not on this life, but on the life to come, and they fully trusted in God’s promise to provide a Savior.

Marc Roby: And God is always faithful to keep his promises. You mentioned that the Bible is also necessary for us to live in a way that is pleasing to God. But, many people today think that they are pleasing God by simply doing what they think is right. What would say to those people?

Dr. Spencer: If they are not explicitly seeking to know and do God’s will in his way for his glory, then he is not pleased with them, even if and when what they do is, in itself, good. We must remember the creator/creature distinction. God alone has the authority to tell us what is right and wrong. We need to remember what I said in Session 23 when we discussed the sufficiency of the Bible, our consciences can be desensitized by sin, and they can also be corrupted by our own reason when it operates independently. It is not our place to decide what is sin and what isn’t sin. That is God’s prerogative alone. Our consciences must be informed by the Word of God. Our reason is a wonderful tool and we must use it to understand and apply God’s Word. But, our reason can also be a terrible enemy, especially when we allow it to be influenced by Satan and the world.

Marc Roby: What you’re saying reminds me very much of Martin Luther. He is famous for his stand at the Diet of Worms of course when he was commanded to recant his teachings and faced possible death if he refused. He said “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason …, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”.[2]

Dr. Spencer: I find it interesting that when people cite that statement, they often omit the first part and simply quote the part that says “it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience”. But Luther had it completely right. It is only unsafe to go against conscience if our conscience is captive to the Word of God. The Bible must be our ultimate authority. If I find myself disagreeing with something I’ve read in God’s Word, I must first be sure that I am understanding it correctly. But, if I am understanding it correctly and still find myself disagreeing with it, then I must change. I am wrong.

Marc Roby: At this point it seems that you have started to speak about a different attribute of the Word of God, its authority.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, I have sort of moved into that territory. But, it is impossible to treat these things completely independently. When we say the Bible is necessary for salvation and to live a life pleasing to God, we have to presuppose its authority. It obviously can’t be necessary if it has no authority to speak on these topics.

Marc Roby: That makes sense. So, if we simply assume for the moment that the Bible does have authority, can you give us an example of how to apply this idea that the Bible must define what is right?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of important and current issues in the church where the authority of Scripture to define what is right is of critical importance. For example, many professing Christians today have given up on the idea of eternal hell. They will either say that it doesn’t exist at all, or that it isn’t eternal. The basic rationale for believing either one of these two theses always boils down to human reason saying that it is somehow not fair. There is no cogent biblical argument in favor of either of these positions. I don’t want to get into in detail now because our subject is the necessity of the Bible, but let me give a quick summary of a couple of arguments.

In Matthew 25:31-32 Jesus told us about the Day of Judgment, when he will come to judge all people. He said that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” He then goes on to describe the judgment and with regard to those who have rejected him he says, in Verse 41, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And then again, in Verse 46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” In all three places where the word “eternal” is used in the NIV translation of those verses, the Greek word is αἰώνιος (aionios), which means eternal, or without beginning or end.[3] We could cite other evidence, but the Bible could not be more clear about the eternal nature of both heaven and hell.

Marc Roby: And for those of us looking forward to heaven, that is a wonderful thought. But, we are out of time for today, so are we done with examining the necessity of the Bible, that is special revelation?

Dr. Spencer: We are. But, I’d like to make a summary statement I think. The Bible is necessary for living a life pleasing to God precisely because it is God alone who has authority to say what is sinful and also to tell us how we are to worship him.

Marc Roby: Very well, that concludes this session. But, I want to remind our listeners to 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] As quoted on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diet_of_Worms

[3] A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 28

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the characteristics of the Word of God, which is the Bible. Dr. Spencer, last time you discussed general and special revelation and then briefly defined four characteristics of Scripture, which can be remembered by the acrostic SNAC; sufficiency, necessity, authority, and clarity.

But, before we begin today, I think it would be good to suggest some reading material for those listeners who want to follow along in our study in a little more depth.

Dr. Spencer: That would be a good idea. The first, and by far most important, book I recommend is the Bible itself. Every Christian should be reading the Word of God every day. Jesus told us in Matthew 4:4 that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” [1] The Word of God is food for a Christian. And you should read all of it, not just your favorite Psalms and stories. I strongly recommend having a good reading list and going through the entire Bible every year. It isn’t like a novel, which you usually read only once. The Bible should be read over and over again throughout the Christian life. Just like we need to eat real, physical food regularly, so we also need a regular diet of the Word of God. The reading list we use in our church, which I think is a good one, is available online as a pdf file that you can download, the link is in the transcript of this podcast.[2] In addition, I would recommend that you use a good study Bible, like the ESV Reformation Study Bible. The notes are a big help, especially for a Christian who is not yet extremely familiar with the Bible. Just remember that the notes are not inspired.

Marc Roby: I wholeheartedly agree that daily reading of the Word of God is a necessary discipline for a Christian to be able to have what the Puritans used to call an overcoming life. In other words, a life that overcomes sin, the world and the devil. What books do you recommend in addition to the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: Let me start with theology books. If you have never read much theology before, I suggest beginning with James Boice’s book Foundations of the Christian Faith.[3] It is an excellent book, very readable, not too long, readily available and not very expensive. You will also find it valuable even if you are already familiar with theology. If you want something a bit longer and more detailed, I would suggest Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.[4] If you want to go even further, I would suggest Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology[5] and, of course, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.[6] Finally, in addition to the Bible and systematic theology, I would also suggest reading commentaries to help you with specific books of the Bible. Pastor Matthew’s commentaries, available at graceandglory.pub, are all outstanding.[7] Also, the classic Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the complete Bible is wonderful and is available both online and in book form.[8] The detailed references for all of these are in the transcript.

Marc Roby: That list should keep people busy for a while. What do you want to begin with today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start fleshing out the characteristics we mentioned last time; sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we going to look at them in that order?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to look at the first two in order, yes. So, let’s go ahead and begin with sufficiency.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said last time that the Bible provides sufficient information for salvation and as our guide for living. What else do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: The first thing I want to do is contrast the Bible with general revelation. Remember that by general revelation we mean all of creation, including our own conscience, our sense of right and wrong, and our intuitive sense that there is more to a person than just their physical body. As we noted last time, that revelation is sufficient to leave people without excuse before God. We read in Psalm 19:1-4 that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Just as Paul declared in Romans 1, which we quoted last session, general revelation is sufficient for every person to realize that God exists, and it should cause us all to give thanks to him for this life and to seek to know him. But, that knowledge is not sufficient for salvation, or to tell us how to live a life pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that statement will bother some people, because they wonder about the fairness of someone who has never heard the gospel being sent to hell.

Dr. Spencer: I certainly understand that objection. It was one that I had before I was saved. But the answer given to us in Romans 1 is that all people have sufficient information to leave them without that excuse. They know that God exists, but they refuse to give him thanks and truly seek him. That is why they are condemned. God tells us in Deuteronomy 4:29 that if “you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The problem is that no one does that until and unless God himself draws us, as we are told in John 6:44.

Marc Roby: The fact that our salvation is based on a gracious work of God is emphasized in Ephesians 2:8-9, where we read that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is not deserved. We all deserve hell. What is surprising is that God chooses to save some. And he does that through his word, the Bible.

In 2 Timothy 3:14-15 the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Also, in James 1:18, the Lord’s brother wrote that God the Father “chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” Also, the apostle Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 1:23, that we “have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” All three of these Scriptures show us that God uses his Word, the Bible, to bring us to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: But, as you shared from 1 Corinthians 2:14 last session, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. When we say that the Word of God is sufficient for salvation, we mean that it reveals all of the information necessary to be saved, but we need more than just information. The devil has all of the information, and he also knows it’s all true. But intellectual assent to the truth of the Bible will not save us, which is why in James 2:19 we read, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” To be saved, we must first be born again. Without that, we will never repent and trust in Christ alone for our salvation. Remember last session I quoted from James Boice’s book, Foundations of the Christian Faith. He said that “special revelation has three stages. First, … redemption in history. … Second, … revelation in writing.” And third, “the application of these truths to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit.” [9] That application by the Holy Spirit begins with new birth, or regeneration. Without regeneration, knowledge of the Bible simply adds to our guilt.

Marc Roby: So, when we talk about the sufficiency of the Bible, we are not saying it is sufficient for salvation all by itself.

Dr. Spencer: Right. It contains all of the information necessary, but the Holy Spirit must do a work in us to allow us to receive that information with faith.

Marc Roby: Alright, so we now know what it means to say that the Bible is sufficient for salvation, what about the fact that we also said it is sufficient to guide us in living the Christian life?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we can again contrast special and general revelation. God has given every human being a conscience. And even in people who have not been born again the conscience mediates against many of our most wicked impulses. For example, most people are not going to murder someone just because they get angry at the person. Nor are most people willing to mug someone and take his money because they want it. But, we all know that there are many exceptions to this rule. Our conscience can be a good guide, but if we repeatedly violate it the Bible tells us it can stop working properly. In 1 Timothy 4:2 Paul writes about “hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” For example, if you keep lying over and over, you reach a point where your conscience no longer objects. It has ceased to function properly.

Marc Roby:  At that point I think you’re eligible to become a politician.

Dr. Spencer:  You might be right about that. But in addition to becoming seared, our conscience can also be corrupted. People can, for example, use their reason to convince themselves that something is alright when, in fact, it is clearly not alright. A good example of this might be sex before marriage. People may argue that since God made sex it is good and natural and that waiting for marriage is just an old-fashioned idea that was part of the culture at the time of the Bible, but is not true anymore, especially since we have birth control now. But, if we examine the Bible carefully, we see that sex outside of marriage is clearly a sin and will always be sin. The point is that we need to train our conscience using the Word of God, in other words, using special revelation.

God is the one who defines what is sin and what is not sin. And God is the one who tells us what we are to do to live a life pleasing to him. The only objective place we can turn for that kind of moral guidance is the Bible. And the Bible is sufficient to tell us all that we need to know to please God. In Deuteronomy 32:47, Moses had told the people God’s commands and then said, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” The Bible tells us in many places that we will be blessed if we obey the commands of God, which are given to us in the Bible. For example, in Deuteronomy 28:2 we are told that “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God”, and this statement is then followed by a lengthy listing of the many blessings of God. The same message is in the New Testament. For example, in John 13:17, Jesus tells us, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that the commands given to us in the Bible are sufficient for the purpose of living in a way that is pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Psalm 1, where we read “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a classic passage to make this point and, of course, in that passage, when he talks about the ‘law’ of the Lord, he’s talking about the whole of the Bible. Or we can look in Matthew 7:24-25 where Jesus tells us that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” This parable is again telling us that if you put Jesus’ words into practice you will be blessed.

Marc Roby: I think we have established that the Bible, when heard or read by someone who has been born again, is sufficient for salvation and to direct us in how to live. Is there anything else to say about this characteristic of the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. The sufficiency of the Bible makes clear that we don’t need any new revelation from God, either for salvation or for life. This speaks powerfully against the Roman Catholic church’s view of tradition. The Roman Catholic church places the traditions of the church on an equal footing with Scripture. Which, in practice, really means that they trump scripture. But, even if they didn’t, there is a clear problem. If any of the teachings of the church were necessary for life or doctrine, what can we say about the people who lived prior to the time the church came up with that teaching? The Bible would not have been sufficient for those people.

This also speaks against the Mormon cult. I had some Mormons come to my door one day who said that Mormonism was just like the reformation. Their claim was that just as Martin Luther and the other reformers corrected the abuses that had developed over time in the Roman Catholic church, so Joseph Smith corrected abuses that had developed since the time of the reformation. But that is complete nonsense. The reformation did not introduce any new revelation from God, it went back to the Word of God itself, which had been there the whole time. The existing errors were errors in interpretation and application of the existing revelation. Whereas Joseph Smith introduced a whole new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which contradicts the Bible at many points. Knowing that Scripture is sufficient for salvation and life guards against our being deceived by any new so-called revelation.

Marc Roby: The Bible itself tells us in many places to not add to the words of God. For example, in Deuteronomy 4:2 Moses tells the people “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And similar warnings are given in Deuteronomy 12:32, Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18-19.

Marc Roby: That raises and interesting question though. How do we reconcile these statements with progressive revelation? If we consider the statement I quoted from Moses, I can imagine someone might object and say that if Moses told the people not to add to his commands, what are we to say about the rest of the Old and New Testaments, which were revealed after the time of Moses?

Dr. Spencer: Grudem talks about this in Chapter 8 of his Systematic Theology, which is on the sufficiency of the Bible. He points out that to say that man can’t add to the Scripture is not the same thing as saying that God can’t add to it. Now, of course, the Mormon’s for example, would say that God did add to it with the Book of Mormon. But, I think that view is impossible to accept for two reasons. One, the Book of Mormon contains so many counterfactual elements and, two, there is no need for further revelation. Let me quote Grudem on this second point because I think he says it very well, and his explanation tells us both why there was more revelation after the time of Moses, and why there hasn’t been more after the time of Christ. He wrote that “At each stage in redemptive history, the things that God had revealed were for his people for that time, and they were to study, believe, and obey those things. With further progress in the history of redemption, more of God’s words were added, recording and interpreting that history”[10]. “After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the founding of the early church as recorded in the New Testament, and the assembling of the books of the New Testament canon, no further central redemptive acts of God in history (…) have occurred, and thus no further words of God have been given to record and interpret those acts for us.”[11]

Marc Roby: That certainly is a powerful argument that we have no need for further revelation. And I think that is a good place to stop for today. I again want to encourage our listeners to 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] See http://gracevalley.org/wp-content/uploads/ReadScheduleNonLpYr.pdf

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

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997 (3-volume set)

[6] E.g., John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson, 2008

[7] https://graceandglory.pub/

[8] E.g., Matthew Henry’s Commentary, New Modern Edition in six volumes, Hendrickson, 1991 and https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/

[9] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 37

[10] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 130

[11] Ibid

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