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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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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by beginning a study of systematic theology. Dr. Spencer, I think it would be a good idea to define what systematic theology is.

Dr. Spencer: That would certainly be a good place to start. The word theology comes from two Greek words, theos (θεός), which means God, and logos (λόγος), which can mean word, or statement, or reasoning.[1] It is the origin of our English word logic, for example. But it is also the root of a suffix in many words, like anthropology or archaeology, where it has come to mean the study of something. So, theology is the study of God.

There are different kinds of theology and the modifiers aren’t always used in a consistent way. In our podcast introductions we have been saying that we are studying “biblical theology”, by which we mean theology according to the Bible. But, according to the 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge, biblical theology would, strictly speaking, be a compilation of the facts presented in the Bible.[2] In contrast, systematic theology looks for the relations between these facts and seeks to draw conclusions from them. He uses geology as an illustration. You can simply compile a list of facts; for example, the locations, size shape and so on of different rivers. Or you can study the causes and relations between different geological facts, which is, in general, more useful.

Overall, I like the definition given by Wayne Grudem the best. In his book Systematic Theology, he writes that “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.”[3]

Marc Roby: Now, I have to point out that that definition originally came from John Frame.

Dr. Spencer: OK, I knew you’d been itching to get a reference in to one of your favorite theologians. And you’re right, the definition comes from Frame and Grudem does gives him credit in a footnote.

Marc Roby: Just wanted to make sure the record was straight.

Dr. Spencer: I think it’s straight. And it is a good definition. What we are interested in doing is seeing what the whole Bible teaches us, specifically about we are to believe, and how we are to live our lives.

Marc Roby: Alright, where do we want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: We want to begin, as Wayne Grudem and many others have done, with the Word of God itself.

Marc Roby: Perhaps I should remind our listeners that we have already covered this topic to some extent. In Session 4 we discussed the fact that the Bible itself claims to be the very Word of God and that it alone is the ultimate standard, or authority, for a Christian. Then, in Sessions 5 and 6, we discussed the Bible’s authority and its progressive revelation of Jesus Christ as the Savior. So, what else do want to say about the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: I want, first, to stress the importance of the Word of God. Although it is not the only revelation we have from God, it is the only revelation we have that tells us what we must do to be saved. Theologians often speak of both general and special revelation. General revelation refers to creation itself, including man, our conscience, reasoning and entire being. While special revelation is often used to refer to the Bible, although we’ll see in a few minutes there is more to it.

General revelation is so named because it is available to everyone in general. We are told about it in Romans 1:20-21, which say that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him”. [4] This is a very important point. General revelation is sufficient for the purpose of leaving men without excuse. We should know that there is a God, we should give him glory and thanks, and we should seek to know him and please him. But, in our natural state, we do none of those things.

Marc Roby: And, of course, because men reject God, Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-19 that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that is where special revelation comes into the picture. It is called special revelation because it is not available to every single person. And it is only in special revelation that God reveals to us how we can be reconciled to him and have the sentence of his wrath removed from us.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, by being united to Jesus Christ by faith.

Dr. Spencer: Right. That’s the core of the gospel message. In his natural state, man is a sinner who has rejected God and is under his wrath. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1 that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. But, if we repent of our sins and place our trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, we’ll be saved.

It is the unique job of God’s special revelation to give us this gospel message.

Marc Roby: But it gives us a lot more than just the bare gospel.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does. It gives us everything we need for life and doctrine. In other words, it tells us everything we must believe and everything we must do. Not only to be saved, but to live a life pleasing to God. And not only does it tell us these things, it is our only infallible, objective guide for salvation and the Christian life. Remember in Sessions 2 and 3 we examined the answer to Question 3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which states that the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” That is the same as saying it teaches us doctrine and life.

Marc Roby: Now I can hear some Christians objecting at this point, because they will say that God reveals to them directly, by his Holy Spirit, what they are to do.

Dr. Spencer: I believe that God does reveal things to his people by his Holy Spirit. But, the Holy Spirit is also the author of the Bible, and God cannot lie, and he cannot change or contradict himself. So, the subjective revelation that a Christian may get from the Holy Spirit must always be subservient to the objective Word of God.

If you think the Holy Spirit has revealed something to you that contradicts the Bible, then you are wrong. And we need this kind of objective standard, because we are all prone to misunderstanding the prompting of the Holy Spirit, or to thinking the Holy Spirit is speaking when, in fact, it is either our own sinful nature welling up, or a suggestion even of the devil. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that “we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes”. In the Greek, the word the NIV translates here as “schemes”, and which the ESV and other versions translate as “devices” is noama (νόημα), and the root meaning is really “thoughts”. So, the verse could perhaps be better translated as “we are not unaware of Satan’s thoughts.” In other words, Satan puts thoughts into our minds. And we need some objective standard for distinguishing between our own sinful thoughts, the thoughts of Satan, and the thoughts the Holy Spirit brings to us.

Marc Roby: And the Bible is that objective standard.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is, which is why we have said a number of times in these podcasts that the Bible must be the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian. We can’t let our subjective experiences be the ultimate rule because they can simply be wrong. And there is no way for anyone else to help me if my subjective understanding is the ultimate standard. Suppose, for example, I tell you that God has spoken to me and told me that I should do something, if my subjective experience is the ultimate standard, then you can’t say much at that point. Who are you to contradict God? So, if you think I’m wrong, your only options would be to leave it alone or call me a liar. But, if I tell you that I think God spoke and told me to do something, you can speak to me if what I think God wants me to do is unbiblical. You can, and should, say to me, “Richard, I don’t think that is the Holy Spirit speaking. Let’s look at what the Holy Spirit said in the Scripture.”

Marc Roby: And I think we all need that kind of correction from time to time.

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely do. Which is why being a member of good church and having good Christian fellowship is so important.

Marc Roby: It reminds me of the apostle Paul rebuking and correcting Peter in Galatians 2:11.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great example. We aren’t told the entire conversation, but I’m confident that if Peter didn’t immediately recognize he was wrong and repent, Paul would have argued from the Scriptures to show him that he was wrong.

Marc Roby: Of course, the apostles had the advantage of having heard Jesus himself speak.

Dr. Spencer: That certainly was a great privilege. But, I think that in many ways we are far more privileged today.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: Because God has provided us with a written record of all the words and deeds of Jesus that it is important for us to know about. We don’t have to rely on our memories.

Marc Roby: That is certainly a good thing, especially as we get older!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. My memory is sometimes pretty bad. But, we have an even greater advantage because not only do we have the written record, we have nearly 2,000 years of scholarship and exhortations from godly men and women to help us understand and apply the Word of God, and to encourage us to hold firmly to the faith.

Marc Roby: That is a tremendous benefit indeed. And it is sometimes astounding, as well as humbling and edifying, to read the insights of some of the great saints of the past.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely true. But, I also want to point out that the Bible is not going to be properly understood by anyone unless and until that person is born again. What I mean by “properly understood” here is that the message is received and responded to with saving faith. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: That is so true.

Dr. Spencer: The fact that the Bible cannot be properly understood without the Holy Spirit working in us is why I said there was more to special revelation than just the Bible itself. Since the whole point of the term “special revelation” is to talk about what is needed for salvation and living the Christian life, we need to keep in mind this necessary work of the Holy Spirit even if we say that special revelation is the Bible, as is frequently done.

I think James Boice makes a good point in his wonderful book called Foundations of the Christian Faith. He writes that “special revelation has three stages. First, there is redemption in history. This centers in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He died in the place of sinners and rose as proof of their divine justification. Second, there is a revelation in writing. This is the Bible. God has provided interpretive records of what he has done for our redemption. Finally, there is the application of these truths to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit. As a result the individual is born again, receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, and is enabled to follow him faithfully until life’s end.”[5]

Marc Roby: It is clear from my own experience that we need the Holy Spirit to apply the truths of the Bible to our own lives.

Dr. Spencer: My experience is the same. Not only must we be born again, we must also be walking in humble obedience and be filled with the Spirit or our reading of the Bible will not be as useful as it could be. God refuses to speak to someone who is sinning and refusing to repent. But, when we are right with God, his Holy Spirit causes the Bible to come alive. When we read it we see ourselves, and it brings us to repentance, greater faith, a deeper understanding of God, and a clearer understanding of what he wants us to do.

Marc Roby: I find it amazing how you can read a passage you’ve read many times before and yet, because of your different situation, God shows you something completely new and different in the passage.

Dr. Spencer: I’ve had the exact same experience. But, as I’ve been saying, this standard is an objective standard. And one of the things that means is that I’m not free to run off and go crazy with my subjective interpretations of what the Word of God says. That is part of the reason it is so important that this revelation be in written form. If I have misinterpreted it, I need to be able to sit down with someone and have him show me where I went wrong.

Marc Roby: That, of course, requires that we agree on how to read the Word of God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we must agree on how to properly read and understand the Word. The science of properly interpreting the Word of God is called Hermeneutics, and we will get into that in a later session. For now, I want to move on to mention four key characteristics of special revelation.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: They are sufficiency, necessity, authority and perspicuity.

Marc Roby: I’m sure at least some of our listeners are not familiar with the word perspicuity.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right. Perspicuity means clarity. So, perhaps, we could say that the word perspicuity is not particularly perspicuous.

Marc Roby: Maybe it would be better not to have said that.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, perhaps you’re right. In any event, I thought it was important to at least introduce the term since it is used in theology and since the acronym you will sometimes hear for these four characteristics is SNAP, which stands for sufficiency, necessity, authority and perspicuity. But, if you like, we can change the acronym to SNAC, standing for sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity.

Marc Roby: Why are these terms so important?

Dr. Spencer: They are important because they tell us some very important things about the Word of God given to us in the Bible. First, it is sufficient, which of course begs the question, “Sufficient for what?” And the short answer is, that it provides sufficient information for salvation and as our guide for living. The Bible is also necessary, which again begs the same question, “Necessary for what?” And the short answer is also the same, it is necessary for salvation and a proper Christian life. There is only one way to be saved, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. But, the only place we learn who Christ is, what he did, and how we can be saved is the Bible. So, either a person has to read it for himself, or he has to be told what it says by someone sent to preach the gospel to him. Thirdly, the Bible is authoritative, which again begs the question, “Authoritative for what?” This time the answer is more comprehensive. The Bible is authoritative for everything it speaks about. As we have pointed out several times, it is a Christian’s ultimate authority. And, finally, we come to clarity, or using the old term, perspicuity. What this means is that the Bible is clear about those things for which it is necessary and sufficient. In other words, the basic message of salvation and how to live a life pleasing to God is clear. You don’t need a degree in theology, nor do you need to be exceptionally bright in order to understand the basic message of the Bible. A child is able to understand it sufficiently to be saved.

Marc Roby: But, of course, there is so much more there as well. Even a very intelligent and learned person can spend a lifetime studying the Word of God and never fully plumb the depths.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true. There is always more that we can learn about from the Word of God.

Marc Roby: I look forward to exploring the Word of God further, but we are out of time for today. I want to close by reminding and encouraging our listeners to send their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

 

[1] E.g., see 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, pp. 477-478

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. I, pp. 1-2

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, pg. 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: I remember that when we began this recent group of podcasts on the nature of true saving faith in Session 12, you quoted Matthew 7:21 where Christ warns us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” That prospect should produce some fear and trembling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: Perhaps the most important thing is to realize what great peace and assurance we can have as Christians, and how that can make us able to go through trials in this life with great joy. If we see evidence that God has begun a work in us to change us, in other words, solid evidence that we have been born again, then our trust and hope are not in ourselves, they are in God’s promises and God’s power. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6 that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” If God is doing a mighty work in me, I don’t need to worry about whether or not he will complete it, he has promised that he will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t the biblical order at all. And it doesn’t make sense. Just like you can’t do anything to cause yourself to be born physically, so also you can’t do anything to bring about your rebirth. That is the point of the metaphor. We read in Romans 8:5-8 that, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires … The mind of sinful man is death, … the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” And, in speaking about the “sinful mind” here, Paul is talking about unbelievers; people who have not been born again. The sinful nature we are born with affects the mind and prevents an unbeliever from willfully submitting to God’s law, or from doing anything to please God. The unbeliever is hostile to God. So how can he choose to follow God?

Marc Roby: That’s a good question.

Dr. Spencer: The great 20th-century theologian John Murray gave a lengthier version of the question that I think it would be well worth our time to read. He wrote, “Enmity against God must express itself in opposition to every manifestation of his holy will. How then can we expect that man will answer with delight the call to enter into God’s kingdom of glory and virtue? How can a man dead in trespasses and sins, and at enmity with God, answer a call to the fellowship of the Father and the Son? How can a mind darkened and depraved have any understanding or appreciation of the treasures of divine grace? How can his will incline to the overtures of God’s grace in the gospel?”[2]

Marc Roby: I’m sure that quote will rile up some of our listeners!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: That is a very common argument.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Nor have I.

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: That is an important point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: Fear can be a good thing!

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure they would.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine the nature of true saving faith. Last time, Dr. Spencer, you made the point that simply saying “I believe in Jesus Christ” is not enough to be saved, we must see our sinful condition and our need for a Savior, and we must believe in the one true Savior, Jesus Christ, as he is presented to us in the Bible. At the end, you held out that there is even more to be said; what did you have in mind?

Dr. Spencer: I had a number of things in mind, but the first one is that Christianity is not a self-help program, nor is it just a bit of moral reformation. I fear that far too often nowadays that is all people think it is.

Marc Roby: I’ve heard that view as well.

Dr. Spencer: And in the churches that peddle this brand of false Christianity, Jesus is seen as nothing more than a good moral teacher and his sacrifice on the cross, if it is believed at all, is simply seen as an example of personal sacrifice.

So, the first thing I want to make clear is that true Christianity has absolutely nothing to do with this kind of nonsense. The Jesus Christ who is presented in the Bible, and the Jesus Christ who is the Savior of the world, is truly God and truly man, and he gave his life as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of those who will place their trust in him. Christians are, of course, to live differently than unbelievers, but it isn’t just a little bit of moral renovation, it is a deep-seated work of total transformation that continues throughout all of life.

Marc Roby: And, in fact, we don’t primarily work for any kind of reward in this life, do we?

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. As Christians, our ultimate hope is not for anything in this life. No, we are looking forward to what comes after this life! As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”[1] And, in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, he wrote about his own upcoming death to his young protégé Timothy and said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Marc Roby: Paul was clearly looking forward to something wonderful when this life is over.

Dr. Spencer: Yes he was. That is why, in Philippians 1:21 and 23 he wrote that “to die is gain” and that to die is to “be with Christ, which is better by far”. The apostle Peter also wrote about this great hope. In 2 Peter 3:13 we read that “in keeping with [God’s] promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

Marc Roby: And of course, we have the glorious picture of this new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21where we are told that “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” and that “God himself will be with [us] and be [our] God.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. What a glorious picture it paints of our eternal destiny. So, my main point again is that a false Christianity that is focused on this life, as most modern churches are, is a horribly distorted imitation of the real thing. Therefore, our purpose is not to live better so that this life is better, our purpose is to do the will of God for his glory and to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ himself and to look forward to our ultimate home, which is in heaven with God. We should be able to join with the psalmist in Psalm 73, verses 24-25, when he wrote, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

So, a little bit of moral reformation is not what we are talking about. Christ told his disciples in Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Our main focus is to be on living this life to prepare for what happens after we die.

Marc Roby: All right, what else did you have in mind with regard to the nature of true saving faith?

Dr. Spencer: The second thing I had in mind is a doctrine sometimes called the double imputation, which we briefly introduced near the end of Session 3.

Marc Roby: Now, according to my dictionary, to impute something to me is to say that I now possess it, or that I am guilty of that something, whatever it might be. So, please explain the “double imputation” to which you are referring

Dr. Spencer: I’m referring to the fact that when we truly repent and trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation, our sins are imputed to him and his righteousness is imputed to us. This is also called the double transaction. It is like a financial transaction, my sins are placed in Jesus’ account and his perfect righteousness is placed in mine.

Marc Roby: That’s a very unequal transaction to say the least!

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. It is the most amazing display of God’s grace and love imaginable. Jesus Christ willingly takes all of my sins, past and future. He takes the whole ugly, smelly lot upon himself and bears the penalty that I deserve to pay, the wrath of God and death itself. And, in addition, he then gives to me his perfect righteousness.

Marc Roby: And, of course, he had to become man in order to die, since God cannot die. But he also had to live a perfect, sinless life in obedience to the will of God the Father.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. He had to live a perfect life as a man in order to have this perfect righteousness to give.

In addition, since it was man who sinned against God, a man had to atone for that sin. But no mere mortal is able to atone for his own sin, let alone the sin of someone else. As it says in Psalm 49, verses 7 through 9, “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough”.

Marc Roby: That verse puts the lie to the commonly held belief that in the Day of Judgment God will put my good deeds and bad deeds on a balance and see which are greater.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly does. And, as I briefly mentioned near the end of Session  2, we have no good deeds anyway. Everything we do is tainted by sin. God is perfect and he demands perfection. Which means that not only must my external actions be perfect, but so must my motives and desires be perfect. And nothing I ever do in this life satisfies that standard.

Marc Roby: But, as you said, Jesus Christ did satisfy that standard.

Dr. Spencer: Yes he did, and he is the only one who ever has. He himself said in John 8:29 that he always did was pleased the Father. But, his perfect obedience is not the only reason we need Jesus as our Savior. We also need the infinite value of his atoning sacrifice.

Marc Roby: Why is that?

Dr. Spencer: Because, as Jonathan Edwards correctly argued in his famous sermon “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners”,[2] 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.

Marc Roby: And, of course, no mere man can pay an infinite price, except by being punished infinitely long; hence the fact that hell is eternal.

Dr. Spencer: Right. But, because Jesus Christ is infinite God incarnate, his sacrifice has infinite worth. He fully paid the infinite penalty for sin by bearing the wrath of God for a finite period of time—those horrible hours on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” In addition, the Father has agreed to accept his sacrifice on behalf of those who will place their trust in him.

Marc Roby: Very well, that covers the first half of the double transaction, it explains why we need Christ’s atoning sacrifice. But we still need to explain the second half of the transaction, in other words, why we need his perfect righteousness.

Dr. Spencer: We need his perfect righteousness because we are told in Matthew 5:48 to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We need nothing less than a perfect righteousness to come into God’s holy presence. So, in the double transaction, Jesus takes away the guilt of my sins by his atoning sacrifice, and he grants to me his perfect righteousness.

Marc Roby: That is an amazing thought. And this is not a new idea in the New Testament, we also see this transaction spoken of in the Old Testament, don’t we?

Dr. Spencer: We certainly do. In Zechariah Chapter 3 we see a wonderful portrayal of this transaction, using the example of Joshua, who was the high priest at the time the Jews were rebuilding the temple after the Babylonian captivity. And he is used not just as an example, but also as the representative for the people. In verses 1 through 5 the prophet tells us of a vision he was given by an angel, and he says; “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’ Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.’ Then I said, ‘Put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.”

Marc Roby: That is a beautiful picture of God’s grace.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. The scene, of course, is a courtroom in heaven, and Satan is the prosecuting attorney. The idea here is that if the high priest Joshua is a sinner – represented by his filthy clothes, what hope is there for the people? How can a sinful high priest offer sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people? He himself needs a sacrifice. And notice that no one denies that Joshua is sinful. Even though Satan is the father of lies, he does not have to lie to accuse us, he can tell the truth. But the angel of the LORD, who many would say is Jesus Christ himself, tells them to take off Joshua’s filthy clothes and to put clean, rich, garments on him instead. This represents salvation; it is the gospel. We need to have the perfect righteousness of Christ to be able to come into heaven, and we are granted that perfect righteousness in the double transaction.

Marc Roby: I remember in Session 3 you noted that Paul wrote about this in 2 Corinthians 5:21. We read, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Dr. Spencer: I quoted that verse because it is the very best one I know of for supporting this doctrine. And the wording in that verse is important, it says “in him” we become the righteousness of God. Throughout the New Testament it speaks of Christians as being “in Christ”, in fact that construction is used 89 times in the Bible we are using.

Marc Roby: And, of course, this expression is sort of a shorthand way of speaking about our union with Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. And our union with Christ is what the theologian John Murray has called “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”[3] All that can be said of a Christian is true only because we are united to Christ by faith.

Marc Roby: I’m sure we will have to spend more time in a later session, or two, talking about union with Christ, but let’s get back to the topic at hand and see how this applies to our preliminary discussion of the nature of true saving faith.

Dr. Spencer: Alright, well union with Christ is fundamental to our discussion. You are certainly correct that we will come back at a later date and spend more time on the topic, but now I want to point out three things. First, it is in union with Christ that he takes our sins upon himself and pays the penalty we owe. Second, it is in union with Christ that we receive his perfect righteousness, which we need to enter heaven. And, third, it is in union with Christ that we live in this life.

Marc Roby: OK. We’ve covered those first two points in terms of the double transaction, how is the third one important in a basic discussion on the nature of true, saving faith?

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it’s critically important because it speaks to how a Christian should live. We are united to Christ by faith, and so it is proper to say that we are saved by faith alone. But, that union involves a radical change in our being, which occurs when we are born again, and which always results in a life of obedience. We discussed this topic at some length in Session 3, but it is critically important to bring this up again in the context of true, saving faith, because most modern churches are antinomian, at least to some degree.

Marc Roby: And that word antinomian means against the law.

Dr. Spencer: Right. I encourage our listeners to go back and listen to Session 3 if they don’t remember it or haven’t heard it, but the idea that a Christian is not bound by God’s law is not biblical. The law of God is our guide to living a life of grateful obedience to God for saving us. Our law-keeping is not the basis of our salvation, but it is the evidence that we have, in fact, been saved.

I won’t go back over the same Scriptures I adduced in Session 3, but I have time to give just one more today that makes the same point. In Hebrews 5:8-9 we read about Jesus and are told that “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”. Notice the limiting clause in this statement; he became the source of eternal salvation not for everyone, and not for those who simply claim to believe in him, but for all who obey him!

Marc Roby: This is clearly an important topic, and I look forward to continuing our discussion next time, but 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] “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1, Hendrickson Publishers, 2005, pg. 669

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

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology by examining a new topic today—the nature of true saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer, our listeners might be surprised by the fact that we are not continuing our examination of extra-biblical evidence to corroborate the Bible, why are we stopping that series?

Dr. Spencer: We aren’t stopping, only pausing for a bit. I want to shift gears for a short time to restore some balance. I do want to present a reasonable summary of the evidence to corroborate the Bible, and the engineer in me would like to complete that topic before moving on, but we have already done five podcasts in a row on it and there is a danger of over-emphasizing its importance.

Marc Roby: But, of course, it is important.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, of course it is, and we will return it. But, evidence that supports the Christian faith can be over-emphasized. Christians can get caught up in presenting evidence and neglect the heart of the gospel. As I noted in Session 1, this kind of evidence has, I think, two uses: first, it bolsters the faith of believers, and second, it challenges unbelievers by showing them flaws in their own worldview, which helps them see that they are, as the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1 verse 20, suppressing the truth they know, which is that God exists and created this universe, including you, me and everyone else.

Marc Roby: Very well, so you want to discuss the nature of true saving faith today. I suspect a lot of people, who identify as Christians, would say that it is very simple; believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. What needs to be added to that?

Dr. Spencer: A great deal needs to be added to that statement. That statement, of course, is a quotation from the answer the apostle Paul gave to the Philippian jailer in Acts, Chapter 16. But, we need to look at that account in context to know how to understand it. True, saving faith has content, and that content matters very much. If someone says that he has put his faith in Jesus Christ, he may be saved, but he also may not be. There are many different so-called gospels out there, and many different ideas of who Jesus Christ is.

Marc Roby: And, of course, this is not a new phenomenon. The apostle Paul had to deal with this in his letter to the church in Galatia, didn’t he?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, In Galatians 1:6-7 he wrote that “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.”[1] Remember that the word gospel simply means good news, and the good news is that God has provided us with a way of being redeemed from our sin. A way of having the guilt of our sin done away with, the punishment due to us for our sins taken away, and even of having the pollution and presence of sin removed.

But, as Paul wrote, not every message that claims to be the gospel is true; some of them are “no gospel at all”, they are not good news, but very bad news. In fact, they can damn people to eternal hell. In Matthew 7:21-23 we read what I think are the most terrifying words our Lord ever spoke. He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Marc Roby: That is a frightening passage.

Dr. Spencer: And it’s meant to be. These people thought they were Christians, and not just run-of-the-mill ordinary Christians, they had driven out demons and performed miracles. And yet, Christ tells them to go away. And you have to stop and ask yourself, “go where?” The answer is, to hell. Christ was telling them that their so-called faith was useless, that he would not own them as his, and that they were going to eternal hell.

Marc Roby: But, many people who call themselves Christian today do not believe in an eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: I know that’s true, and I don’t like the idea any more than anyone else does; although I can intellectually see the need for hell. But, whether we like it or not, the Bible clearly teaches there is an eternal hell. Jesus Christ himself spoke about hell more than anyone else.

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us about the final judgment and, in verse 41 he says that the king, who is Jesus himself, “will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” And, just in case people think this isn’t really speaking about eternal punishment, look at verse 46, where Christ speaks about those who are not saved and says, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” The Greek word translated as eternal in that verse is the same in both places. So, if the punishment is not eternal, then neither is the eternal life referred to, which is heaven. We can deal with the doctrine of hell at greater length in the future, but for now I’d like to return to discussing the true gospel.

Marc Roby: Alright, you have so far made the point that there are different gospels, and that false gospels cannot save. So, what is the true gospel?

Dr. Spencer: The true gospel is the one presented to us in the Bible. So, anyone who takes exception to anything I say here can look in the Bible and see whether or not what I say is consistent with the Bible. But, I must warn people to not be deceived! You have to be careful how you read the Bible. For example, people are tempted to look at 1 John 4:8, which tells us that “God is love”, and then declare that a loving God would not send anyone to hell and think that they have settled the matter.

Marc Roby: I’ve definitely heard that view expressed.

Dr. Spencer: So have I. But, there is a serious problem with the view. It is taking one three-word phrase out of context, importing a non-biblical definition of the word “love” into it, and then making it into an absolute statement that is used to overrule the rest of the Word of God completely, so that wherever the Word of God opposes this wrong idea of love, the Word of God is ignored.

Marc Roby: OK, you’ve made the point that we need to interpret the Word of God carefully. Now let’s get back to the question at hand, “what is the nature of true, saving faith?”

Dr. Spencer: Let’s go back to the Philippian jailer to find the answer to this question. In Acts Chapter 16 we are told that a crowd of people in Philippi were opposed to the gospel message and made false charges against Paul and Silas. As a result, they were severely beaten and put into stocks in the prison. Let me read a passage from Acts about what happened next.

Starting in verse 25 of Chapter 16 we read, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’ The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’”

Marc Roby: That is an amazing story. It also shows how different the times were; the jailer knew that if all the prisoners had escaped on his watch, he would be killed. It didn’t make any difference how it happened. So, he was ready to kill himself to avoid a more unpleasant death.

Dr. Spencer: It is an amazing story, but it is also true. And I want to draw our attention to a few things. First, it is obvious that the Philippian jailer had heard about Paul and Silas, and knew something of the message they had been preaching, otherwise it makes no sense for him to fall trembling at their feet and ask, “What must I do to be saved?” The question implies that he had heard there was a judgment coming, and that he knew he was a sinner and needed to be saved. And, because the prisoners were all still present, in spite of having been miraculously freed by the earthquake, he realized that the message Paul and Silas were preaching was, in fact, true. Perhaps some of the prisoners were converted that night also, but, whatever the case, they were so fascinated by Paul and Silas that they did not take the opportunity to escape. Therefore, the jailer had every good reason to believe that Paul and Silas could tell him what he needed to do. His actions clearly indicate that he knew he had something to fear and that he wanted to be saved.

Marc Roby: So, when the context is considered, the message spoken to this jailer was not quite as simple as just “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. A.W. Pink wrote about the need to be careful in our understanding of this passage in terms of evangelism, he wrote, “It was no giddy, careless, unconcerned person, who was exhorted to ‘simply’ believe; but instead, one who gave clear evidence that a mighty work of God had already been wrought within him. He was an awakened soul. In his case there was no need to press upon him his lost condition, for obviously he felt it; nor were the apostles required to urge upon him the duty of repentance, for his entire demeanor betokened his contrition. But to apply the words spoken to him unto those who are totally blind to their depraved state and completely dead toward God, would be more foolish than placing a bottle of smelling-salts to the nose of one who had just been dragged unconscious out of the water.”[2]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a vivid image of futility, to try and use smelling salts to resuscitate a drowned man!

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I like his illustration a lot. But, the main point he is making, which I am trying to make as well, is that the true gospel message is not simply “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

Marc Roby: How then would you summarize the gospel message?

Dr. Spencer: I would say, as many have said before me, that there must be bad news before there is good news. No one is going to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” if he doesn’t think he is in any danger. So, the first thing we must do is tell people that there is a holy and just God, who is absolutely sovereign over the entire universe. And that we have all rebelled against this God and are under his just judgment. We should all fall to our knees trembling and cry out “What must I do to be saved?”

Marc Roby: That is not a pleasant message to deliver to people.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t, but it is what we all need to hear. People don’t like being told that they have cancer either, but if it is the truth, it would be cruel to not tell them. They can only seek treatment if they know they have the disease.

Marc Roby: And the gospel is the treatment for the deadly disease of sin.

Dr. Spencer: And it is the only treatment possible. As Peter tells us 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.” The Christian faith is unashamedly exclusive. There is only one God who created this universe and he has made one, and only one, way of salvation. And that way of salvation is through Jesus Christ. No man is able to save himself. We must humble ourselves, acknowledge that we are sinners, rebels against our Creator, and cry out for mercy.

Marc Roby: But, I’m sure some will ask, why is Jesus Christ and his death on the cross necessary? Why doesn’t God simply pardon all those who humble themselves and ask for mercy?

Dr. Spencer: That is a great question, and the Bible gives us a clear answer. In Romans 3:22-26 the apostle Paul tells us that, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him 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.”

Marc Roby: There is a lot in that passage.

Dr. Spencer: There is too much for us to go into all of it in the time we have left, but I want us to notice four things: First, all have sinned. We all need a Savior. There is no exception. Second, God redeemed us through his Son, Jesus Christ, whom he sent as an atonement for our sin. In other words, Christ paid the penalty that we owed, and God the Father has agreed to accept that payment on our behalf. Third, God did this to demonstrate his justice. You see, God is absolutely just, so he must punish sin. It is simply not possible for him to wink at sin and say, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I see that you are sorry for it, so I forgive.” No, his justice must be satisfied. But, because he is also loving and merciful and wants to save his people, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for us. The fourth point is that in this way, God’s justice is satisfied and his people are saved. That is why Paul writes that God can “be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” He is just, in other words completely righteous and holy, and yet, he can justify those who have faith in Jesus, which means he can declare them just, in spite of their sin, because Jesus Christ has paid the demands of God’s holy law.

Marc Roby: Now, that truly is good news! And it makes me think of perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, 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.”

Dr. Spencer: Amen. That is the most amazing truth. In spite of my sin and rebellion, I will spend eternity with God in heaven. But, there is still more to be said.

Marc Roby: I’m looking forward to hearing what that is, but 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] A.W. Pink, Signs of the Times, Studies in the Scriptures, December, 1937, No. 12, pp 20-25 (http://www.chapellibrary.org/files/sis/sis-37-12.pdf)

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