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You’re listening to What Does the Word Say, a series of podcasts on biblical theology produced by Grace and Glory Media, and I’m Dr. Spencer. Our usual host Marc Roby is not with me today because we are both obeying the stay-at-home order issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We are also taking a break from our continuing series on systematic theology and instead, I am going to present a short meditation on the Scriptures to encourage all of us in this troubling time.

As I noted in Session 143 on The Proper Christian Response to the Corona Virus Pandemic, as Christians we should not be anxious about anything. We know that our God is sovereign over all the affairs of man and he has promised us, as we read in Romans 8:28, that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”[1]. Therefore, we can face trials with great confidence. In fact, as Christians we can rejoice even when we are experiencing troubles.

Now you might be thinking, “He’s gone too far this time, how on earth can I rejoice when the stock market crash has taken away a third of my retirement savings?” Or “How can I rejoice now that I’ve lost my job?” Or “How can I rejoice while I’m afraid of getting Covid-19?” You might be thinking that to rejoice in times like these is simply irrational. But that is not what the Bible tells us, so let’s take a look.

First, let me say that I am not saying we rejoice in the fact that we are experiencing trouble. But we can rejoice even when we experience trouble because we know that God is completely in control and therefore, the trouble cannot destroy us. Also, we know that God’s grace will be sufficient for us as we go through the trouble and we know that God can bring good out of it.

In Romans Chapter 4 the apostle Paul makes the argument that Abraham was justified by faith. He had faith to trust God’s promises even when he couldn’t see how things could possibly work out. If we go back to Genesis Chapter 17, we see that God had promised Abraham the he and his wife Sarah would have a son even though Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah was 89. We read in Genesis 17:19, “your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” Now think about that promise from a human perspective, sometime in the next year Abraham and Sarah were to have a child, when he would be 100 and she would be 90 years old. That is impossible based on normal human experience. And yet, Abraham believed God.

Now, this is the episode Paul was referring to when he wrote in Romans 4:20-22 that Abraham “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’”

Brothers and sisters, it glorifies God when we trust his promises. Note that Abraham was strengthened in his faith. How was his faith strengthened? He thought back on all that God had done for him already and he reasoned about the nature of God. God is the omnipotent Creator of all things. God cannot lie. God cannot change. As Abraham meditated on these truths, his faith was strengthened and he gave glory to God. True faith is based on facts, not wishful thinking or nebulous feelings. As the Rev. P.G. Mathew put it in his commentary, “Faith is not self-delusion, positive thinking, or repetition of a mantra. Faith proclaims, ‘I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me’ (Phil 4:13, author’s paraphrase).”[2]

God had spoken to Abraham personally. But what about us? Mathew notes, “Unlike Abraham, we meet God today in his word. Therefore, the more we read and meditate on the Scriptures, the stronger we will grow in God.”[3] And so that is what we are doing today. We are looking into God’s Word and meditating on it in order to increase our faith so that we can stand in this trial and glorify our great God.

And note that Paul said Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. It doesn’t say that Abraham truly was righteous in himself, although he no doubt was by human standards, but no one is righteous in God’s sight as we are told in Romans 3:10. Nevertheless, Abraham’s faith caused him to be counted righteous in God’s sight, in other words, he was declared justified.

And then, based on these historical facts from the Old Testament, Paul wrote, in Romans 5:1-5, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Now, there is a lot in these five verses, but for our purposes today I just want to point out three things. First, we have peace with God. The biggest problem of every human being is that we are born sinners under the wrath of God. And so, having peace with God means that our greatest need has been met. That alone should give us the ability to rejoice even in times of trouble. No eternal harm can come to a soul that is at peace with God. But you must be sure that you are at peace with God, so make your calling and election sure or this promise does not apply to you.

Secondly, we know our eternal destiny is to be glorified and spend eternity with God. When we consider that eternity never ends, and that our eternal destiny is guaranteed to be glorious, we can see, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” When we compare anything that might happen to us in this life with eternal glory in the presence of God, it will be seen to truly be light and momentary.

And third, we see that suffering can be useful. Suffering produces perseverance, which could also be translated as endurance, or patience. In other words, we become less focused on our immediate pleasure and more cognizant of eternal realities and the things that are really important. We can go through momentary troubles knowing that there is a good result to be obtained if we go through them properly and profit from them. And then Paul tells us that perseverance produces character, which could also be translated as proof of character.[4] If we display this perseverance or patience in suffering, it is proof that our character is being formed in a godly way. And this, in turn, produces hope Paul tells us.

Mathew points out that “In modern usage, the word ‘hope’ is full of contingencies and doubts. It usually connotes ‘hope so.’ In the New Testament, however, hope signifies absolute certainty. It is faith oriented to the future based on the promise of the good, almighty, God, who does not change his mind.”[5] Mathew also says that “In our natural thought, we would expect that sufferings would destroy our hope of being glorified. But tribulations, in fact, strengthen our hope by weaning us from focusing on ourselves and the world, and turning us to God. Tribulations make us heaven-focused.”[6]

And so, we can see based on this passage in Romans, that the Bible tells us to rejoice even when we are suffering. We don’t ask to suffer of course. We don’t pretend to enjoy suffering. We don’t minimize or tell others who are suffering that it isn’t real. No, we have an intelligent, compassionate understanding of suffering. It is part and parcel of living in a sinful world. But good can come out of it. If a person is not born again, suffering can be used by God to turn that person away from reliance on and infatuation with this world and to turn him to Christ in saving faith instead. And God can use suffering in the lives of his children to purify us, as gold is refined in the fire.

But, I must note that whenever we suffer any kind of trial, be it personal or corporate like this current pandemic, we should always cry out to God to show us our sins so that we can repent of them. God undoubtedly has multiple purposes he is accomplishing through this trial and we can, and should, be praying that a great revival would be one of them. But we must also recognize that one of the purposes is almost surely to punish this wicked world for turning away from God. Just consider a couple of facts about our own country to show that God cannot be pleased with us.

First, according to the CDC, the leading cause of death in the United States in 2017, the most recent year for which I could find data, is heart disease. It was responsible for 647,457 deaths.[7] But, according to the Wall Street Journal, there were about 862,320 abortions in that year.[8] The number isn’t exact because those in favor of abortions don’t want you to know how many there are, and so some are not reported and the number was almost certainly higher. But it is clear that there were far more abortions than there were people who died of heart disease, so the terrible truth is that Abortion is the leading cause of death in the United States of America.

My second example would be the LGBTQ movement. We have gay pride days, gay pride month and so on. But the Bible is abundantly clear that homosexuality is a sin. The prophet Isaiah prophesied to the Jewish people at a time of prosperity and he spoke about the coming judgment. In Isaiah 3:8-9 we read, “Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.” Does that not sound like the United States of America today?

Therefore, trouble like this should cause all of God’s children to cry out for forgiveness; forgiveness for our own sins and for those of our country. That is the first thing we should do. But then we also need to learn from Abraham and strengthen our faith by meditating on God’s Word. It has been said, and quite rightly, that when we stare at our problems, they can look too large to handle, but when we look at God and realize his awesome power and goodness, our problems shrink down to size.

And so, let me close today by taking a quick look at Psalm 42 to encourage us all. This psalm is very relevant to our situation as Christians today, living in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us live in places where we have been ordered to stay at home. As a result, we are not able to gather with our brothers and sisters in our local churches on Sunday mornings. And Psalm 42 was written at a time when the psalmist was not able to go the temple to worship.

Now, some scholars think that Psalms 42 and 43 were originally one psalm and were then separated, perhaps for some liturgical purpose. The two psalms can certainly be read as one and the refrain in Verses 5 and 11 of Psalm 42 is repeated in the last verse of Psalm 43, so these scholars may be right. But whether or not they were originally one psalm is not important for what I want to say today. Let me read just the first five verses for now:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and (my God)[9].

There are a number of things we should notice from these verses, but for today I have time to make only three quick points. First, as I said, the psalmist was, like many of us, unable to go to his normal place of worship. Notice that he says “I used to go with the multitude … to the house of God”. As a result of his inability to go worship publicly with the saints, he cries out, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

And that leads to an obvious question we should ask ourselves; “Do I thirst for God?” And I want us all to be very thoughtful and careful in answering that question. Think about a time when you have been extremely thirsty. When you’re really thirsty it is hard to think of anything else. It absolutely dominates your thoughts and you have an unshakable desire to go get something to drink. It is a very powerful thing. And notice that the psalmist doesn’t say his thirst is for going to be with his friends, or to hear the music, or to hear an encouraging word from the pulpit. He says his thirst is for God. Charles Spurgeon wrote that “When it is natural for us to long for God as for an animal to thirst, it is well with our souls, however painful our feelings.”[10]

And so we should all seriously examine our own thoughts on this matter. Do we really thirst for the living God? If we do, then let me remind us that he is present with us. We should go to church when we can and it should be a great delight to do so, but we don’t have to go to a particular building to meet with God. At the end of the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:20, Jesus told us, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We can meet with him in our own homes. Come to him in prayer and meditate on his Word. He is present and he knows your trouble.

The second thing I will note is that the world mocks us. The psalmist said “My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” After a recent shooting event in this country I remember there was a huge uproar against a public official who said he was praying for the victims. People were saying all sorts of stupid and downright blasphemous things about prayer not being helpful and God not being able to prevent the shooting or not being good because he didn’t. It will always be the case that unbelievers will mock true Christians. But our response must be to pray and to be obedient to God’s will.

The third thing I want us to look at, and the thought with which I want to leave us all, is Verse 5, where the psalmist preaches to himself, saying “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” We must put our hope in God and praise him in all circumstances. He is our Savior and our God. If we hold on to those truths, we can and will rejoice even in times of great trouble such as we our experiencing now. As Paul said in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We have a great and awesome God and as a friend of mine has been saying lately, the most important statistic of all about this pandemic is that God is 100% sovereign.

So, brothers and sisters, we must repent of our own sins and cry out for mercy for this wicked country. Meditate on the Word of God and be strengthened in your faith. Seek to know what God would have you learn through this trial. We serve a mighty God and he is able to bring about all that he has promised. And remember that you can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our very best to respond. So, may God bless you in the coming week.

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

[2] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 221

[3] Ibid, pg. 220

[4] See Ibid, pg. 267

[5] Ibid, pg. 255

[6] Ibid, pg. 268

[7] Data from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm

[8] See U.S. Abortion Rate Drops to Lowest Level Since 1973, WSJ, Jennifer Calfas, Sept. 18, 2019 (https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-abortion-rate-drops-to-lowest-level-since-1973-11568827339)

[9] In our Bibles these two words are really the beginning of Verse 6.

[10] C. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Hendrickson Publishers, 2016, Vol. 1, pg. 271

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. Last time we established that Jesus Christ was fully human and that he overcame every temptation in his humanity, strengthened by the same Holy Spirit power that is available to all believers, which is a serious challenge to us all to not sin. Dr. Spencer, what do you want to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at why it is theologically important that Jesus be fully human. As we noted in Session 113, the apostle wrote in 1 John 4:2-3 that “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” [1] So, to deny the full humanity of Jesus is to give place to the spirit of the antichrist.

Marc Roby: Well, that certainly emphasizes the importance of the topic.

Dr. Spencer: It does, yes. And in examining this topic, I am going to again follow fairly closely the presentation in Wayne Grudem’s book Systematic Theology. He notes that there are “several reasons why Jesus had to be fully man if he was going to be the Messiah and earn our salvation.”[2]

Marc Roby: Now, before you proceed, perhaps we should remind our listeners that the Hebrew word Messiah simply means anointed and refers to the Savior promised in the Old Testament. The Greek word Χριστός (Christos), which also means anointed, is the source of our English word Christ. Jesus is the anointed one.

Dr. Spencer: Well, we haven’t said that in quite a while and not everyone knows it, so it is a timely reminder.

But getting back to why the Messiah, or the Christ, had to be fully man in order to earn our salvation, the first reason Grudem lists is that he had to be man in order to be our representative before God as he fully obeyed God’s laws.

Remember that Adam was God’s appointed representative for the entire human race, which theologians call our federal head, as we discussed at some length in Session 76. Therefore, because he was our representative, when he fell he brought the whole race into what the Westminster Shorter Catechism calls “an estate of sin and misery.”[3]

Marc Roby: And so Jesus Christ had to be fully man in order to be a new representative, or federal head, to redeem his people from the estate of sin and misery.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. The apostle Paul explains this in his letter to the Romans and also mentions it in his first letter to the church in Corinth. In Romans 5:18-19 we read, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Marc Roby: And when Paul speaks about “the obedience of the one man” he is clearly referring to Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is absolutely clear if you read the whole passage. I don’t want to repeat what we said in Session 76 so anyone who is interested can go look at that, but every human being is either represented by Adam or by Jesus Christ. All human beings are initially represented by Adam by virtue of being his descendants. As a result, we inherit his sinful nature and the guilt of his sin. In addition, of course, we heap up more guilt for our own sins and, if we die in Adam, meaning that we are still represented by him, we will go to eternal hell.

Marc Roby: Praise God that through Jesus Christ he has provided another option!

Dr. Spencer: And it is a most blessed and gracious option. As Paul tells us 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.” In other words, if we repent of our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then we are united to him by faith and he becomes our representative instead of Adam. The biblical language is that we are then “in Christ”.

Marc Roby: And if we are in Christ, he is in us! Jesus told us in John 14:20 that “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” What an awesome and incomprehensible truth that is. God is in us! I don’t understand it, but I rejoice that it is true.

Dr. Spencer: It is impossible to overstate the magnitude of that blessing. In 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul tells us, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” But we must remember the first rule of hermeneutics and interpret this verse in the light of the entire Bible; “all” does not mean each and every person without exception. It means all of a particular class. The very next verse, 1 Corinthians 15:23, says “But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” In other words, Christ will be raised from the dead first, which is what we commemorate on Easter Sunday, but when he comes again, “those who belong to him” will also be raised from the dead, which is referring to the resurrection of our bodies. And the fact that Paul uses the limiting clause “those who belong to him” tells us clearly that he isn’t referring to every single human being.

Marc Roby: Well, this might be a good time for to summarize what we’ve said so far. We’ve noted that every human being is represented by either Adam or Jesus Christ, which we had discussed at much greater length in Session 76. Everyone is initially united to Adam by virtue of being a human being, and those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are then united to him by that faith and he then becomes their representative.

Dr. Spencer: Which explains why Jesus had to be a man. It is God’s will that we be represented by a man and Adam and Jesus Christ are the only two options available. There is no third way. And, if we are represented by Christ, he took our sins upon himself and paid the penalty for them on the cross and in return we are given his perfect righteousness, which make us fit for heaven.

Marc Roby: I’d say that that is the most amazing and one-sided transaction imaginable. We give up our filthy sins, guilt and shame, which deserve hell, and receive Christ’s perfect righteousness, which deserves heaven.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, theologians call this the double transaction or double imputation. Paul wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he said that “God made him” which refers to Jesus Christ, “who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: That is truly marvelous. Why else did Jesus have to be fully man?

Dr. Spencer: The second reason Grudem gives is that Jesus needed to be man to be a substitute sacrifice for us. After all, God cannot die. In speaking about Christ, the writer of Hebrews says, in Hebrews 2:14, that “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil”. And in Verse 17 of that chapter we read, “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

Marc Roby: I feel compelled to point out that that word “atonement” there is an interpretation, rather than a translation of the Greek word in this verse. It should say “propitiation”, not “atonement”.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, and other translations do a better job on this verse. We will get to that in a later session, but for now I want to stick to the question of why Jesus had to be a true man.

Marc Roby: Okay, what is the third reason Grudem lists?

Dr. Spencer: He notes that Jesus had to be both God and man in order to be the only mediator between God and man. We read in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.

Marc Roby: Now it’s sad when you think about Adam and Eve before the fall. They didn’t need a mediator. They had direct fellowship and communion with God. But they lost that privilege because of their sin.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is terrible, but praise God for his mercy. He restores us to fellowship with him in Jesus Christ.

And the fourth reason Grudem gives that Jesus had to be real man is to fulfill God’s original purpose for man to rule over the rest of creation. God’s original purpose was expressed in Genesis 1:26 where we read that God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” But because man sinned, he doesn’t rule properly.

Marc Roby: Yes, and, as a result, Jesus had to come and clean up our mess so to speak.

Dr. Spencer: I guess that’s one way of putting it. In 1Corinthians 15:24-25 the apostle Paul wrote that the end will come when Christ “hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” And to reign, of course, means to rule.

Marc Roby: And the amazing truth is that we will reign with him. We read in 2 Timothy 2:12 that “if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s an incredible promise. And that brings us to the fifth reason Grudem gives for Jesus being a man. He must be a true man in order to be our example for how to properly live. We are told in Romans 8:29 that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” And in 1 Peter 2:21 the apostle tell us, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Marc Roby: I don’t think that many people like the idea of following in Jesus’ steps in terms of suffering.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I don’t know anyone who likes suffering. But Jesus himself told us in Matthew 16:24 that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To understand this verse you need to know that the Romans usually made a condemned criminal carry his own cross to the place of crucifixion. So, to deny ourselves and take up our cross is a clear reference to dying.

Marc Roby: We need to remember that death is not the end of existence. The real meaning of death is separation, as we discussed in Session 104. In Colossians 3:5 Paul commands us to “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature”.  Instead, in Ephesians 4:24, he tells us we are to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s an important point because most people, even many professing Christians, think of death as the cessation of existence. But, if that were true, then it would make no sense to say, as Paul does in Ephesians 2:1-2, that a person could be dead in his transgressions and sins, in which he used to live. As always, we need the biblical worldview to properly understand the Bible and the world we live in.

But, getting back to Grudem’s point. Jesus Christ is to be our example. We are not to do everything he did of course, some of the things he did and said were only proper for God to do or say. But the way he lived, in perfect obedience to the commands of God, is to be our example.

Marc Roby: Probably the most famous verses to make that point are in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews Chapter 11 is often called the hall of fame of faith and it lists a number of biblical examples of people who lived faithful lives. And then, in Hebrews 12:1-2, we are told, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a great encouragement. We have many godly men and women throughout history and even at the present time to whom we can look as examples of living godly Christian lives. But our ultimate example is Jesus Christ himself. And the ultimate picture of his faithfulness was that he was willing to take our sins upon himself and endure the wrath of God on our behalf.

Marc Roby: That is obviously an example that none of us ever live up to.

Dr. Spencer: Well, that’s for sure. But let’s quickly finish listing Grudem’s reasons why Jesus had to be a man. The next one he gives is that Jesus had to be a man in order to be what the Bible calls the firstborn from the dead and the pattern for our resurrection bodies.

Marc Roby: You read Romans 8:29 a few minutes ago, which says that Christ is to be the “firstborn among many brothers”. But we also read in Colossians 1:18 that Christ “is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

Dr. Spencer: And in speaking of our physical resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:42 the apostle Paul wrote that “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable”. And then, in Verse 49, he says that “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man,” which refers to Adam, “so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” Which, of course, refers to Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: And in Philippians 3:20-21 Paul wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great passage. And it brings us to the final reason Grudem gives for Jesus needing to be a man. And this one is a bit difficult to grasp. As God, Jesus knows everything, including exactly how we feel and what we think. He knows all of our temptations, fears and trials perfectly. And yet, in Hebrews 4:14-15 we are told that “since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

Marc Roby: And so, we are being told that by actually experiencing temptation himself, Jesus is better able to sympathize with us. I see the problem, it would appear that he learned something.

Dr. Spencer: I think this falls into the category of things that we can’t fully comprehend. But we are told in Hebrews 2:18 that because Christ “himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” So, we must accept it as true even if we can’t fully understand it. I do think it is a marvelous example of God’s love for his people. Jesus suffered in this life for a number of different reasons, but among them is that he is better able to sympathize with us when we are tempted.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is an amazing fact to meditate on. And a great place to end for today, so let me take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to answer.

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

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg 540

[3] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 17: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind? Answer: The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, in the past two sessions we have discussed the questions you called the bookends to life; where we came from and where we are going. What would you like to discuss today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to discuss the creation of man. In Genesis 5:1-2 we read a summary statement; “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.’” [1]

Marc Roby: And the Hebrew word translated as “man” in that verse is adam, the same word used for the name of the first man.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God used the same term to refer to the entire human race, both male and female, and to refer to men in distinction from women. Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology that since this usage originated with God himself, “we should not find it objectionable or insensitive.”[2]

Now I personally think it is a good idea to use gender neutral terms when it is possible to do so without misrepresenting the Word of God or making our speech or writing awkward or ungrammatical, but no woman should take offense at being referred to as a part of mankind. The term man can be used as a generic term for human beings or as a term specifically referring to a male individual. Like many words it has more than one meaning. And, contrary to popular opinion among non-Christians, the biblical view of women is that they are absolutely equal with men in terms of dignity and worth.

Marc Roby: And no man would be here if it weren’t for a woman! We all have a mother.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true, and so is the reverse, we all have a father as well. We need each other in many ways. We’ll get to the biblical view of women later, but I will continue at times to use the word man to refer to human beings in general, and I certainly do not mean in any way to denigrate women when I do so.

But, let’s return to the creation of mankind. One of the first questions that most people would think to ask about creation in general, and mankind specifically, is, “Why did God create man?”

Marc Roby: While discussing the question “Where did we come from?” in Session 94, we noted the purpose of life from our perspective is, first of all, to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and then secondly, to live for God’s glory. You could say that to ask why God created man is to examine the purpose of life from God’s perspective rather than ours.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good way of looking at it. And the most important point we should make at the start is that God didn’t need to create man at all. Our great triune God has had perfect love and fellowship within the persons of the trinity eternally. He certainly did not need us for fellowship, or for any other reason. It was his free choice to create anything at all, and, more to the point, it was his free choice to create man. He did not need us.

Marc Roby: That fact is very disappointing to some people.

Dr. Spencer: I suppose it is, but it shouldn’t be. It most certainly does not mean that our lives are meaningless. Quite the contrary. Our lives would be meaningless if we were cosmic accidents, but the fact that God created us for a purpose gives our lives great meaning. In addition, God takes delight in his people. We are, for example, called his treasured possession. The Hebrew word for treasured possession is segullah, which is used 8 times in the Old Testament. Six of those times it refers to God’s chosen people. For example, in Exodus 19:5 God told Moses to tell the people, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”[3]

Marc Roby: That is an amazing thing to consider, that the eternally perfect God considers us his treasured possession.

Dr. Spencer: It’s an astounding statement. But as a weak analogy, think of a great artist. He could take joy and receive pleasure from his greatest work of art and you could say it was his treasured possession.

Marc Roby: And to say that would not imply that the work of art was in any way necessary. The pleasure the artist had in it would be the pleasure of seeing his own handiwork, it would not be a property of the art itself.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. The fact that God does not need us in no way diminishes our worth, but the pleasure he has in us is the pleasure of a Creator, it isn’t because we somehow add something. But I called the analogy of an artist and his work a weak one because it fails miserably in one way.

Marc Roby: In what way does it fail?

Dr. Spencer: It fails because as creatures we cannot create living beings. We can only create inanimate objects. But God created living beings who can, in fact, have real fellowship with him. The fact that he doesn’t need our fellowship does not mean that he will never enjoy it. We read in Isaiah 62:5, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

Marc Roby: That is incredible to think about.

Dr. Spencer: It truly is. God doesn’t need us, but he does derive joy from us. We can also add to this discussion the observation that it is a very good thing that God doesn’t need us in any way.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because if God actually needed us in any way to accomplish his purposes, then we couldn’t be sure he would accomplish his purposes! His promises would not be certain because man is never infallibly dependable.

Our only real hope is in God. I trust his promises precisely because they don’t depend on anything outside of God and certainly not on me. No one can thwart his purposes. We read in Isaiah 14:27, “For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?”

Marc Roby: Yes, that is very comforting.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And we read in Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17:24 that Jesus prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Which backs up my statement that the persons of the Trinity have had perfect love and fellowship for all eternity.

Marc Roby: All right. We have established so far that God didn’t need us and that we are his treasured possession. What else do you want to say about why God made us?

Dr. Spencer: God created us for his glory. God himself says, in Isaiah 43:6-7, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” And in Ephesians 1:11-12 the apostle Paul wrote that we were chosen in Christ, “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

Marc Roby: What a wonderful purpose that is. And we should point out that we receive great joy from working to accomplish that purpose and from having fellowship with God as we do so. And our pleasure in God will be eternal. In Psalm 16:11 King David wrote, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Dr. Spencer: And there is no greater joy than having one of those moments when you are praying or meditating on God’s word and you get a slight glimmer of understanding of the divine majesty and a sense of his presence with you. In Psalm 27:4 the psalmist declared, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”

Marc Roby: The apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Dr. Spencer: I’m really glad you brought up that passage because it shows that our love for God is not just based on emotion or some mystical experience as is often assumed by unbelievers. We have not seen God, and we don’t see him now, but Peter gives the reason for our faith. He says, “for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

In other words, we have a good reason for our faith. It is not an irrational leap in the dark, it is based on truth. We have looked at the Word of God and found it to be true and we see him working in our own lives bringing about our salvation. This is an intelligent apprehension of truth.

Marc Roby: And the Bible commands us in several places to examine ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In fact, Peter himself tells us in 2 Peter 1:10 to make our calling and election sure, and Paul similarly tells us in Philippians 2:12 to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Many self-proclaimed Christians today want a faith that doesn’t need to be tested. They will tell you that they prayed to receive Christ once and so they are saved and it doesn’t really matter how they live because we are not saved by works.

Marc Roby: That is a very popular view of Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: And it is a profoundly unbiblical view, that is to say it’s an unchristian view of Christianity. When we are told to examine ourselves and to make our calling and election sure, there is an obvious assumption that if we have been saved there will necessarily be changes that can be observed. Otherwise, what could you examine?

But the purpose of examining ourselves is not to put is in a perpetual state of uncertainty, fear and anxiety. The purpose is that we may see God at work in our lives and draw the conclusion that we have been born again, that his word is true, and that we can have great hope, confidence and joy in knowing his promises are true and certain.

Marc Roby: Unless, of course, we see no evidence of God working in our lives. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 the apostle Paul commanded, “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?”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, as with any real test, there is a possibility of failure. But even failure is gracious because, if we fail the test, we clearly see our need and should be driven to cry out to God for mercy, and he will never turn away a truly repentant person. We are the beneficiaries no matter how the test turns out. Either we pass the test and have great assurance and hope, or we fail the test and are driven to seek salvation, which is the one thing we really need.

Marc Roby: Of course, all of this begs the question of how I go about testing myself.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great question. And the Bible gives us the answer. In fact, it is one theme of the apostle John’s first letter.  In 1 John 5:13 he wrote, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: There isn’t anything more important than that; knowing that you have eternal life. And knowing that brings great joy. In the same letter John also wrote, in Chapter 1 Verses 3 and 4, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

Dr. Spencer: And it is also important to point out that the joy spoken of by John is not just a momentary feeling of happiness or pleasure. It is much deeper than that. It is the joy of the Lord, which we are told in Nehemiah 8:10 is our strength.

Marc Roby: And because it is a deep joy, not just momentary happiness, it is a joy that we can have even in the midst of suffering. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-4 that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Dr. Spencer: That is true, and amazing. In Romans 8:28 we are told that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And that includes even suffering. God uses it for our good.

And now I’d like to look at a passage that puts together several things we’ve been discussing. In John 15:8-11 Jesus told us that “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a marvelous passage. And it does tie things together nicely. It is to the Father’s glory that we bear fruit by loving him, which means obeying his commands. If we do that, our joy will be complete.

But can we get back to John’s first letter? You noted that one reason he wrote it was so that we could know we have eternal life. What tests does he give us to use?

Dr. Spencer: Well, as the Rev. P.G. Mathew noted in his commentary on 1 John, he provides “three biblical tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test, and the social test.”[4]

Marc Roby: That makes me think of 1 Timothy 4:16 where Paul told his young protégé to “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, both are important. How we live and what we believe. The doctrinal test that John provides is not comprehensive, he uses a few essentials as representative of the essential body of doctrine. We’ll just examine a few of them today.

Let’s begin with the first two verses of this letter. In 1 John 1:1-2 we read, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”

Marc Roby: There’s a lot of doctrine packed into those two verses.

Dr. Spencer: There certainly is. For example, we note that he speaks of “That which was from the beginning”. In other words, in his deity, Jesus is eternal. There never was a time when he did not exist. This is a necessary doctrine of the Christian faith. And, as the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity he existed as Spirit. He did not have a body.

Marc Roby: And yet, John goes on to say that this is one “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched”.

Dr. Spencer: Which clearly speaks of the incarnation. Jesus, the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity became man. He is truly God and he became truly man. He is the unique God-man. The only Savior. And the rest of that brief passage says essentially the same thing again. John wrote, “this we proclaim concerning the Word of life”, which harkens back to what he wrote in his gospel. John 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then he goes on in this first letter to say that “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” This again clearly refers to the incarnation. This eternal life, Jesus, who was with the Father, appeared to John and others and they are declaring that to us.

Marc Roby: What other essential doctrines does John use as examples?

Dr. Spencer: Well, in 1 John 1:5 he says that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” In context it is obvious that he is using light and darkness metaphorically.

Marc Roby: Which is a common thing for John to do, he liked stark contrasts; light and darkness, love and hate, life and death, sons of God and sons of the devil.

Dr. Spencer: He does like stark contrasts. And to flesh out the metaphor he is using here in Verse 5 we could say that God is absolutely holy, just and truthful, in him there is no unholiness, injustice, or falsehood.

Another doctrine he highlights is the pervasive sinfulness of man. He wrote in Chapter 1 Verse 8 that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

There are more doctrines stated or implied in this letter, but for our present purposes that is enough. The main point is that while we live in a free country and anyone can call himself a Christian, our testimony about ourselves is irrelevant on the day we appear before the judgment seat of God. All that will matter on that day is what Jesus Christ himself says about us.

Marc Roby: And if we have rejected God’s revelation of himself in the Bible, or twisted and distorted it suit our own ideas, that will not work with God.

Dr. Spencer: No, it won’t work at all. We don’t need to be expert theologians to be saved, and there are doctrines about which truly born-again people can disagree, as we have noted before in these podcasts. But there are also essential doctrines. If you don’t believe in the full deity and humanity of Christ, his atoning death on the cross and his bodily resurrection for example, you are not a Christian.

Marc Roby: Very well. I think we are out of time today and will have to pick this up again next time. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to respond.

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

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 440

[3] The people of God are also called his segullah in Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2 and 26:18, in Psalm 135:4 and in Malachi 3:17.

[4] P.G. Mathew, The Normal Church Life, OM Books, 2006, pg. 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: What connection are you referring to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

[3] Ibid, pg. 310

[4] Ibid, pg. 306

[5] Ibid

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[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness. Dr. Spencer, last session was a theodicy, which is a defense of the goodness and omnipotence of God given the fact that evil exists. But there is a related question we did not discuss that I suspect a number of our listeners may be wondering about, which is this, “How did evil first enter into creation?” In Genesis 1:31 we read that when God finished his work of creating, there was no evil present because, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Well, not only was all that God created very good, but this is also a very good question. It is also one of the hardest questions you could ask. The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about the origin of sin, but as we consider the topic we must carefully guard against a couple of very serious errors, as Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology.[2]

Marc Roby: What errors are those?

Dr. Spencer: The first one is the error of blaming God for sin. Deuteronomy 32:4 tells us, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” And in James 1:13 we are told that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone”. In light of these Scriptures, and many others, it would be absolute blasphemy to think that God is the author of sin.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree, which is why the presence of sin is so puzzling. What is the second error we need to guard against?

Dr. Spencer: It is to think that God was not able to prevent sin. In other words, to think there is some equally powerful evil force at work in creation.

Marc Roby: Sort of the like the dark side of “the force” in the Star Wars movies.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would be sort of like that if it existed, which of course it does not. God is absolutely sovereign over all creation, which includes Satan and his demons and everything else, and God is completely good.

As we discussed last time, God allowed sin to enter into his creation because it allowed him to more fully demonstrate his multifaceted glory. But the key word in that sentence is “allowed”. God was not the creator of sin, but he is absolutely sovereign over sin. He could have prevented it and he is able to prevent every single instance of sin that has ever occurred or ever will occur.

Marc Roby: That is a difficult notion to accept given some of the truly evil things that have been done throughout history. It is frightening to think, for example, that God allowed the Holocaust.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely, which is why we have to think very carefully and biblically or we will get into trouble. If God were not absolutely sovereign over everything that happens in this universe, we could never trust that he would be able to make his promises come true. In addition, his promises would then be lies and he would be a liar. These are absolutely unthinkable heresies. The only answer I can give, which comes from the Bible as we discussed last time, is that God allowed sin into creation for his own greater glory. But that does not mean that he is responsible for it, or that he approves of it in any way, or that he cannot control it.

Marc Roby: Which is, again, why something like the Holocaust is so hard to reconcile with God’s goodness.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But, as we labored to show last time, you need to realize that God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory and that there is an eternal reality that awaits all people and all angels. In that eternity there will be no injustice. Everyone will be treated either with perfect justice, or perfect mercy. In light of this eternal reality, a Christian’s troubles here are easy to deal with – even the most severe troubles we can imagine. Which is why the apostle Paul wrote, in 2 Corinthians 4:17, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Marc Roby: That’s an amazing verse on two accounts. First, that Paul could call our troubles “light and momentary” given some of the terrible troubles he himself experienced. And secondly, it is amazing to consider what our eternal glory will be like if it far outweighs any possible trouble in this life.

Dr. Spencer: It is hard to imagine, but it is true. We again have to reckon with the fact that eternity is infinitely longer than this life. Let me give an analogy to help us grasp this truth.

Marc Roby: Yes, please do.

Dr. Spencer: Think of someone who gets cancer when he is 10 years old and he is told by the doctor that he will certainly die within a year if it isn’t treated. But if he undergoes radiation and chemo-therapy for six months it can most likely be cured.

Marc Roby: That is a very unpleasant thing to consider, especially in somebody so young.

Dr. Spencer: I chose that age deliberately, as you’ll see. Now let’s further suppose that this young boy goes through the treatments. That will be an extremely miserable six months. But let’s further assume that the treatments are successful and he goes on to live a healthy life and die at the ripe old age of 95. That is 85 years past the date when he was told he had cancer, and 84½ of those years were healthy and happy. The six months of misery amounts to less than 0.6% of those 85 years. I think we would all agree that it was worth it in the end.

Marc Roby: Yes, I have to agree with that statement.

Dr. Spencer: OK, so now think about eternity. Even if God calls me to be one of those who suffer for Christ in this life, it doesn’t matter if I suffer for 1 year or 100 years, it is literally zero percent of the time I will spend in heaven.

Marc Roby: I see your point. And, of course, suffering can also produce beneficial results in this life.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it can. I think we have all experienced or heard about a situation where some painful trial produced a good harvest in terms of either leading someone to saving faith, or driving someone away from some besetting sin, or in just making them a better person. God also frequently uses troubles to cause his people to stop trusting in themselves and this world and to look to him in humility and prayer.

In Romans 5 Paul says that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God and then adds, in Verses 3 through 5, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Marc Roby: That verse also fits with Romans 8:28, which says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Dr. Spencer: It fits with that verse very well. And I can personally testify that I am a better person for having gone through the pain of needing and then having two hip replacements. For example, I am more thankful, less proud and more compassionate toward others.

And our greatest joy in heaven will be contemplating the glory of God, so if our misery in this life helps in any way to make that glory manifest, either directly because we suffer for the name of Christ or just by making us better people, and therefore better witnesses for Christ, just imagine the eternal joy we will receive from knowing that.

Marc Roby: I have to admit that makes it easier to see how sufferings could be considered inconsequential by Paul. Although they may still be terrible to endure in this life.

Dr. Spencer: They can be terrible, and God knows that. All suffering, ultimately, is the result of sin. And God is not pleased that sin exists. In fact, in Ezekiel 33:11 we read that God commanded the prophet, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” This verse, and others, tell us clearly that God does not take pleasure in the fact that sin must be punished. But because he is infinitely holy and just, it must still be punished. God cannot act contrary to his own perfect nature. So, I’m going to borrow a phrase from John Murray and say that allowing sin was a “consequent absolute necessity” for God.[3]

Marc Roby: I think that phrase from Murray needs some explanation.

Dr. Spencer: What I mean is that allowing sin into his creation, while certainly not something that in itself brings any pleasure to God, was absolutely necessary as a consequence of his having decided to create anything. Because God is perfect, his creation is perfect. And that means that the purpose for that creation is the best possible purpose, which we have noted is the manifestation of his glory. And the full manifestation of his glory must include his holiness and just wrath in addition to his love and mercy. Now I’m drawing a deduction at this point, rather than stating something that Scripture tells us clearly, so I could be wrong. But if sin did not have to exist to accomplish God’s perfect purpose, I don’t believe he would have allowed it since sin, in itself, something that God hates.

Marc Roby: I am going to meditate on that thought for a while.

Dr. Spencer: And I hope our listeners do as well. The more we think about God and what he has done and his revelation to us in his Word, the more we see how our own views have to change. That is why Paul commanded us in Romans 12:2, “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.”

Paul isn’t suggesting that we are able to “test” God’s will in terms of passing judgment on it, that would imply that we are greater than God, which is patently absurd. But he means that to the extent our thinking is transformed we will be able to “test and approve” because we will have come into conformity with God’s perfect will.

Marc Roby: And, of course, being conformed to the likeness of Christ, who is God, is the purpose for which we were predestined, called, justified and will be glorified as Paul wrote in Romans 8:29-30. And that conformity will certainly include our thinking.

Dr. Spencer: And our understanding of what is good, since God is the ultimate standard for what is good.

Marc Roby: I can see you’re trying to get us back on our topic, which isn’t a bad idea. But my question about the origin of sin still stands. You’ve argued, and I think successfully, that we need to avoid the ditches on both sides of the road; that is, the ditch on one side of thinking that God created sin and the ditch on the other side of thinking that he’s not able to prevent it. But you haven’t yet addressed how it came into this world, which was originally declared to be “very good”.

Dr. Spencer: Well, as I said at the outset, that is an extremely difficult question, and God has not chosen to reveal much of the answer. God has told us that the original creation was very good, as you just noted, so we know that there wasn’t any sin present in the beginning. God has also told us about Satan coming and tempting Eve, and through her Adam, to get them to sin. We can conclude from that passage that Satan himself had already become sinful. So, there was a fall of Satan and his demons that occurred before the fall of man. Grudem has a good discussion of this in his Systematic Theology.[4] And there are also some passages in Scripture that speak about Satan’s fall.

Marc Roby: The first one I think of is 2 Peter 2:4, where we are told that “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment”.

Dr. Spencer: Another New Testament reference is Jude 6, which says, “the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.”

These two verses tell us clearly that there were angels who sinned and that God judged them. The fact that they are in dungeons, or darkness and chains, does not mean that they have no influence on this world, but rather that God has absolute control over them.

Marc Roby: And a good example of that is seen in Job 1:6-12, where we read of Satan receiving permission from God to test Job.

Dr. Spencer: And in Luke 22:31 Jesus told the apostle Peter that Satan had asked to sift him as wheat. But in the next verse, Luke 22:32, we have that wonderful statement of Jesus “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Marc Roby: I can only imagine that after Peter had denied Christ three times and then Christ was crucified this statement must have provided great comfort, although I’m sure Peter didn’t understand at that time exactly what Christ meant. In fact, Peter must have felt like his faith had failed.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But the wonderful thing is that Christ didn’t say “And if you turn back, strengthen your brothers.” He said “when you turn back”. Christ’s prayers are always effectual, and that should provide great comfort to all Christians because in his great high priestly prayer we read, in John 17:15, that Christ prayed to the Father about his people and said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Marc Roby: That is very comforting indeed.

Dr. Spencer: And that statement, along with Satan having to ask permission to sift Peter and the story of Job, show that God allows Satan and the other fallen angels to operate in this world for a time. In fact, in Ephesians 2:2 Satan is called “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” So, we know that Satan and some other angels fell and are under God’s judgment, that they are allowed to oppose God’s people in this world for a time, but they are completely under God’s authority.

Marc Roby: Which is good news, because Jesus told us, in John 8:44, that Satan was “a murderer from the beginning” and he is “the father of lies” and the New Testament consistently portrays him as the mortal enemy of God’s church. But what about the fall of Satan himself?

Dr. Spencer: There are at least two passages in the Old Testament that many good theologians think refer to Satan’s fall. One is in Isaiah 14, where the prophet is speaking about the King of Babylon, and the other is in Ezekiel 28 where the prophet is speaking about the King of Tyre. In both cases the descriptions of the kings go beyond what could reasonably be said about any human king, so many theologians think that the prophets were weaving together descriptions of the human kings with the fall of Satan from heaven. This weaving together of human and heavenly events that are related in some way is not uncommon, as Wayne Grudem points out.[5]

In any event, these passages, if they do apply to Satan as many think they do, tell us that he became proud and wanted to take his place on the throne of heaven.

Marc Roby: Yes, in other words, he failed to humble himself and take account of the Creator/creature distinction, which we have pointed out numerous times is central to a proper understanding of who we are.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And he used the same temptation that caused him to fall to snare Adam and Eve. Notice what he said to Eve. After contradicting God and saying that she would not surely die if she ate the forbidden fruit, he then said, in Genesis 3:5, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Marc Roby: It’s ironic that he should tell them, “you will be like God” since Adam and Eve had been created in God’s image. So, in one sense, they already were like God, and their listening to Satan actually resulted in that image being terribly distorted.

Dr. Spencer: It is ironic. But it is also clear that Satan was implying they would be like God in some deeper sense than just being made in his image. He may not have been implying that they would become gods themselves, but it was something close to that. Also, as we noted earlier, our final destiny as God’s children is to be conformed to the image of Christ.

John Murray made an interesting observation in this regard. In writing about the sanctification of believers, he wrote that “likeness to God is the ultimate pattern of sanctification. The reason why God himself is the pattern should be obvious: man is made in the image of God and nothing less than the image of God can define the restoration which redemption contemplates. … [but] it must not be thought that likeness to God is absolute. There is a sense in which to aspire after likeness to God is the epitome of iniquity.”[6]

Marc Roby: That is very interesting. So we know that Satan fell from his exalted place because of pride. He rejected the fundamental Creator/creature distinction that we must always keep in mind. I think that provides a reasonable answer to the question I posed at the beginning, but it also raises another one, which we will have to wait for next time to deal with because we are out of time for today.

Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll do our best to respond.

 

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

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 492

[3] Murray uses this phrase in to speak of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 12).

[4] Grudem, op. cit., pp 412-414

[5] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 413 (he cites Ps 45 as an example)

[6] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, Vol. 2, pg. 306

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