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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our previous session we noted that history has proven Marx’s theory to be wrong; capitalism did not cause societies to fail and then convert to socialism. We also looked at the idea of voluntary socialism, where a group of people get together to form a socialist community, and we discovered that these also have all failed. We ended by noting that socialist countries have not done any better than voluntary communities. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to pursue this topic further today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we need a little more background about the failure of Marx’s theory in order to understand how people tried to implement socialism at the level of a country, rather than a small voluntary community. The background we need is to note that by the end of the 1800’s, which was about 50 years after the publication of Marx’s ideas, it was already evident even to one of his key disciples that the theory was wrong.

Marc Roby: Who was that disciple?

Dr. Spencer: Eduard Bernstein. To be accurate, he was more a disciple of Engels than Marx, but that is a distinction without a difference. In fact, to show how close he was it is useful to note that he was one of only four people, including Engels, who scattered Marx’s ashes at sea as Marx had specified in his will.[1]

In any event, Bernstein, who was German, was living in exile in England and what he observed happening in England in the latter half of the nineteenth century did not agree with Marx’s theory. So he began to publish a series of articles in 1896 entitled “Problems of Socialism”.[2]

Marc Roby: I’m sure that didn’t endear him to Engels or other followers of Marx.

Dr. Spencer: No, it didn’t. Bernstein pointed out that trade unions had made a large difference and had, along with other means, made capitalism more tolerable. Quoting from Joshua Muravchik’s outstanding book Heaven on Earth, “What Bernstein was suggesting was that it was possible to fight for the well-being of workers … without envisioning a new society.”[3]

Marc Roby: And that suggestion certainly made him an enemy of Engels and many other Marxists who believed in violent revolution as we noted in our last session.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. But Bernstein was reacting intelligently to the evidence he saw in England. To quote Muravchik again, “More than fifty years had passed since Marx and Engels formulated their sociological forecast that the rich would become fewer, the poor poorer and the middle classes negligible. Bernstein observed that something nearly opposite had occurred: the rich were more numerous, as were the middle classes, and the poor were better off.”[4]

Marc Roby: That is certainly an inconvenient truth for Marxists to deal with. Facts can be really annoying when they don’t agree with your theory. And capitalism has produced great progress for the poor in this country as well, even during my lifetime.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it has. Independent of the constant protestations of the progressives that our system only works for the very wealthy, the poor in this country are way better off than they were 50 years ago, and immensely better off than they were 100 or 150 years ago. The comparison is often relative to the steadily increasing standard of living, rather than to any meaningful standard of real poverty. In fact, one study performed in 2011 and based on government surveys, shows that “As a rule of thumb, poor households [as defined by the Census Bureau] tend to obtain modern conveniences [that is, things like computers, cell phones, big-screen TV’s and so on] about a dozen years after the middle class.”[5]

Marc Roby: I suspect that most people think of poor as meaning that a person has a hard time providing food, clothing, transportation, housing and health care for their family, not big-screen TV’s.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure you’re right about that. And 150 years ago it was certainly true that poor people were concerned about the bare necessities of life, not luxuries. But the way the Census Bureau defines poverty, it ignores all government subsidies and focuses purely on income, not on living conditions. And yet, in 2014 it was reported that the average poor family spent $2.40 for every $1.00 of reported income, so the subsidies are very significant[6]. As a result, the same 2011 study I noted before found that “Some 70 percent of poor households report that during the course of the past year, they were able to meet ‘all essential expenses,’ including mortgage, rent, utility bills, and important medical care.”[7]

Marc Roby: In other words, 70 percent of the supposedly poor households were not truly poor in the sense most people understand that term.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a fair statement. And if you read the report, even the other 30% are mostly not wanting for the basic necessities either.  Most of the “poor,” for example, live in reasonable dwellings that are in reasonable condition and the average “poor” family in America has considerably more living space than the average family in Europe – not the average poor family in Europe, the average family.[8]

Marc Roby: That’s eye opening.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But we must, of course, say that this is not universally true. No one is claiming that we don’t have people in this country living in terrible conditions. But that is not true of most of those who are called poor by the Census Bureau, which is, of course, the number always used by politicians and left-leaning news sources pushing when they are pushing for more social programs. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of people in our country who are poor has fluctuated between about 12% and 15% of the population since around 1970. But the number of people struggling to put food on the table is a small fraction of those, over 92% of those listed as poor said that they never had trouble getting enough food in the past year.[9] That means that just over 1% of the population, which is still too many, had at least occasional trouble putting enough food on the table. But the bottom line is that capitalism has been extremely successful in raising the standard of living for almost all Americans.

Marc Roby: And for many other people as well we might add.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true, but now I want to get back to Marx and in light of the fact that capitalism has been immensely successful in helping the poor, as noted by Bernstein and the data we just quickly reviewed, I want to look at what has happened when Marx’s ideas were implemented at the level of a country, rather than a small voluntary community.

The truth is that, because, as Bernstein noted, the problems with capitalism can be fixed without a complete change in society, the only way socialism can be implemented on a grand scale is either by agreement, or by revolution.

Marc Roby: And, of course, socialism, or at least partial socialism if I can use that phrase, has been tried voluntarily at the country level. For example, in England after world war two.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the English experiment is very important. It wasn’t full-blown socialism, but they did nationalize a number of industries and services and it was, by all accounts, a massive failure. The system was in place from 1945, when Clement Attlee became Prime Minister, until 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. Thatcher said that “No theory of government was ever given a fairer test or a more prolonged experiment in a democratic country than democratic socialism received in Britain. Far from reversing the … decline of Britain … it accelerated it.”[10]

I don’t think it is worth our while to discuss the British experiment further, Muravchik discusses it in his book for those who are interested. The important thing is that it failed badly enough that the country voluntarily went back to capitalism.

Marc Roby: Alright, but there are other examples of democratic socialism that are frequently cited, most commonly Sweden.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, Sweden is often cited, but there are two problems with that example. First, Sweden is not really socialist, their economy is market-based capitalism. And, I might add, has a much lower corporate tax rate, 20.6%, than we had in the United States prior to 2017 when President Trump lowered the rate from 35% to 21%.[11]

Sweden is a welfare state. They have huge taxes on everyone, including the middle class and lower income, and then they offer a wide range of generous government-funded social programs. But their taxes on middle- and lower-income people are much higher than here in the US. For example, there is a value-added tax of 25% on most products in Sweden, that’s like having a 25% national sales tax! In order to compare taxes, we must remember that gross-domestic-product, or GDP, is a measure of a countries total production. The overall tax-to-GDP ratio in Sweden is 43.9%, compared to 24.3% in the United States.[12] And the other Scandinavian countries are all similar.

Marc Roby: That’s a lot of tax. You noted two problems with using Sweden as an example, what is the other one?

Dr. Spencer: That they are demographically very different than the United States. There is a much greater degree of homogeneity in Sweden and in the other Scandinavian countries than we have.  Gert Tinggaard, a professor of political science at Denmark’s Aarhus University explained that “The Nordic welfare state works due to trust. You have to trust that people work and pay taxes when they are able to do so. The second condition is that you also have to trust the politicians. You get a bang for your buck.”[13] Now I don’t think that kind of trust exists in this country, and I don’t see it happening anytime soon. And even Sweden is having a lot of trouble with it now since they have more immigrants than before.

Therefore, this kind of welfare state simply won’t work here. Not to mention the fact that the politicians in this country who promote the Scandinavian model ignore the incredible price tag. They pretend it can be paid by just taxing the rich, which is, first, simply not possible and, secondly, I would argue, not moral either. But we’ll get to that in a later podcast.

Marc Roby: Well, I certainly agree that the trust this professor spoke of does not exist in this country. There is too much diversity and, at this point in time, too much animosity.

Dr. Spencer: And that animosity, as we will also see in a later podcast, is made dramatically worse by neo-Marxist ideologies. But let’s get back to socialist countries. For true socialism, in other words, not including the welfare state, or partial solutions like England tried, the only way to achieve it is by violent revolution.

Marc Roby: Now, why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because there will always to be a sizable number of people who are not willing to voluntarily give up all of their property to the government. And to have true socialism, the government must own everything.

Marc Roby: I certainly can’t imagine that happening here in the United States without a massive use of force.

Dr. Spencer: Nor can I. I don’t think it can happen anywhere peacefully. That is why it has been brought about by force in the countries that have tried some form of full-blown socialism. Muravchik goes through a number of examples in his book. For today, I just want to discuss the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, or often just called the Soviet Union. It was the first truly Socialist country.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, no longer exists.

Dr. Spencer: And the reason it doesn’t is that socialism was a massive failure. The history is long and sordid and we aren’t going to go through it in any detail, that would take way too long. But let’s take a quick look at it and let’s begin by looking at a man named Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin. He was born to a reasonably well-to-do Russian family in 1870. When he was 17, his beloved older brother, Alexander, was hanged for his involvement in a plot to kill the tsar.

Alexander had been strongly influenced by a novel called What is to be Done? And after his death, Lenin also read the novel and said that it “completely transformed my outlook.”[14]

Marc Roby: Now that’s a strong statement. What was this novel about?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the author of the novel had been influenced by Owen, whose utopian experiment we discussed in our session last week, and the novel presented a utopian vision. Let me quote from Muravchik, he says that “The heroes of What Is to Be Done? Were a class of ‘New Men.’ This was an unmistakable euphemism for ‘revolutionaries,’ coined, as were many code words of the time, to dodge the censor. The New Men are ‘courageous, unwavering, unyielding’ and utterly devoted to the ‘common cause.’ Their destiny is to rescue society.”[15]

Marc Roby: You can see how such a grand idea – to rescue society – might capture the imagination of a young man, especially one whose older brother had been hanged for attempting to murder the leader of the government.

Dr. Spencer: It is understandable to a degree, but I don’t want to get into speculating about motives. Let’s just say that many of the things Lenin went on to do are completely indefensible in terms of any reasonable code of moral conduct. His revolution was far different from the American revolution.  But let me get back to the story.

Marc Roby: OK. Please do.

Dr. Spencer: Lenin got involved in some insurrectionist activities and was jailed and then exiled to southern Siberia. The conditions of his exile were not harsh however, he was even allowed to live with his girlfriend, although the authorities made them get married, which they were opposed to, but they agreed so they could be together.

During his exile, Lenin became aware of the work of Bernstein and the effect it was having on some Russian socialists who were turning away from the idea of revolution and were thinking that the workers could peacefully push for better wages and conditions.[16]

Marc Roby: There goes that fickle proletariat again. As we saw with Marx last time, they simply don’t always appreciate what these revolutionaries want to do for them.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, Lenin said that “not a single Marxist has understood Marx!”[17] He was speaking about Marx’s single-minded devotion to revolution. Muravchik wrote, “For neither Lenin nor Marx was the revolution the answer to the question: what can be done for the proletariat? Rather the proletariat was the answer to the question: what can be done for the revolution?”[18]

Marc Roby: That’s an interesting observation. And it certainly tempts one to speculate about the motives of these men, and others like them.

Dr. Spencer: But we will resist that temptation and move on. This idea that the proletariat is prone to be satisfied with reforms that make their lives comfortable is a consistent theme. Lenin wrote, “The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness.”[19] Which he clearly meant in a derogatory way. Lenin went on to say, thinking of Marx and Engels, that “The theory of socialism … grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals.”[20]

Marc Roby: OK, Lenin obviously held the proletariat in utter contempt. It is hypocritical for someone who claimed to want a classless society to so obviously think that a higher class of people are needed to tell the working class what they need.

Dr. Spencer: It is hypocritical, and it is also common among Marxists. They often think they are superior to the people they claim to want to help. And they are almost never working-class people themselves.

Marc Roby: Yes, an interesting observation, but one that I have found to be true in my reading as well.

Dr. Spencer: And it’s because it is almost universally true. Marx, for example, never supported himself or his family. He mooched off of his parents and, when they stopped providing for him, he was supported by friends, mostly Engels. But, getting back to Lenin, who also never worked for a living in a normal sense, the revolution he masterminded in Russia is notable for its absolute brutality and criminality.

Marc Roby: Can you give us some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Starting around 1906 Lenin’s organization used armed robbery, sometimes including murder, to fund their operations. Stalin was good at this type of criminal activity, which is how he first came to Lenin’s attention.[21]

The second example I would give is how Lenin seized power in the first place. World War I broke out in 1914 and Lenin welcomed it because he thought, correctly as it turns out, that it would help his cause. Then during the war, in 1917, there was a revolution in Russia, which led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. This led to the creation of a provisional government, which then subsequently fell to the Bolsheviks, which was Lenin’s party, in the October revolution in 1917. There was then a period of civil war prior to the formation of the USSR in 1922.

Marc Roby: It is certainly a very messy period in Russian history.

Dr. Spencer: Messy in more ways than one. Lenin was absolutely ruthless. He killed virtually anyone who stood in his way. He self-consciously modeled his efforts after the reign of terror in the French Revolution.[22] He used force of arms to overrule election results[23] and he violently oppressed even the peasants he claimed to want to help. The ones who were at all successful and who didn’t want to voluntarily give up all of their possessions he called kulaks. They were treated mercilessly as enemies of the state both under Lenin and, later, under Stalin. They were murdered and their property taken.

Muravchick notes that “Russia’s autocracy had long been notorious in Europe for its cruelty, but no tsar had ever shed blood so freely. Then again, no tsar ever had such lofty aims. ‘How could they … act otherwise,’ asked former Yugoslav Communist leader Milovan Djilas of the Bolsheviks, ‘when they ha[d] been named by … history to establish the Kingdom of Heaven in this sinful world?’”[24]

Marc Roby: That’s incredible. In other words, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, actually believed that the end justified the means.

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And notice the end, this is nothing less than their view of heaven on earth. This was Marx’s vision as well, although he didn’t use that language. Remember from Session 163 that he thought the final state of society was communism, where each person would contribute according to his ability and consume only according to his needs.

Marc Roby: If we’re not careful in our thinking, we could imagine that this is what the Bible teaches.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but the problem is that a true state of bliss requires a change in human nature. It requires the eradication of sin. And only God can do that. In Isaiah 45:22 God tells us, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” [25] The failure of socialism is, fundamentally, that it is trying to play God. It is using the state to try and create, by force, a situation that men have decided is best. I’d rather wait for heaven.

Marc Roby: And so would I. And I very much look forward to continuing this discussion, but we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

[1] J. Muravchik, Heaven on Earth, the Rise, Fall, and Afterlife of Socialism, Encounter Books, 2019, pg. 95

[2] Ibid, pg. 102

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid, pg. 106

[5] Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What Is Poverty in the United States Today?, Backgrounder 2575, The Heritage Foundation, July 18, 2011, see footnote 8 for a list of the surveys (available at: http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2011/pdf/bg2575.pdf)

[6] Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, The War on Poverty after 50 Years, Backgrounder 2955, The Heritage Foundation, September 15, 2014, (available at: http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2014/pdf/BG2955.pdf)

[7] Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox, op. cit.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 317

[11] For Sweden see https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2018/06/european-tax-sweden-country-profile.html, for the US see https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/how-does-corporate-income-tax-work

[12] See https://taxfoundation.org/bernie-sanders-scandinavian-countries-taxes/

[13] Alister Doyle and Simon Johnson, Not in my backyard? Mainstream Scandinavia warily eyes record immigration, Reuters, February 15, 2016, available at https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-nordics-insight/not-in-my-backyard-mainstream-scandinavia-warily-eyes-record-immigration-idUKKCN0VP0IX

[14] Muravchik, op. cit., pg. 112

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid, pg. 108

[17] Ibid, pg. 115

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid, pg. 117

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid, pg. 129

[22] Ibid, pg. 139

[23] Ibid, pg. 137

[24] Ibid, pg. 136

[25] 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 systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Last time we started to discuss sin, which is the most important aspect of human nature since the fall. We noted that there are three main components to the doctrine of sin: its cause, its nature and its definition. We then noted that even though the original creation was entirely good, Satan sinned and then successfully tempted Adam and Eve to sin as well. And we then stated the biblical doctrine of original sin; which is that Adam’s sin caused him to have a sinful nature, and that everyone who is descended from him by the ordinary means of reproduction inherits this sinful nature.

Dr. Spencer, it is often argued that it is unfair of God to allow Adam’s sin to affect anyone other than Adam himself. How would you respond to that charge?

Dr. Spencer: Well, there are a number of things that can be said in response to that charge. James Boice correctly claims in his Foundations of the Christian Faith, that “the fact that Adam was made a representative of the race is proof of God’s grace.”[1]

Marc Roby: Now, how is that fact proof of God’s grace?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, Boice points out that Adam knew he was representing all of his descendants. And, as any father or mother knows, we are far more careful when the welfare of our children is at stake than we are if it is only our own welfare that is at stake. Boice says, “what could be better calculated to bring forth an exalted sense of responsibility and obedience in Adam than the knowledge that what he would do in regard to God’s commandment would affect untold billions of his descendants.”[2]

Marc Roby: That’s a good point, although I don’t know that Adam was thinking about “untold billions of his descendants.” It seems far more likely that he would think about his own children. And even they weren’t born yet.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but Boice’s point is still good. And it has also been pointed out by others that God had placed Adam in a perfect place, the Garden of Eden, and had bountifully provided for his every need. In other words, the circumstances under which Adam was called to obey were the best possible circumstances, those which were most conducive to his actually obeying. In addition, no great effort was required for him to obey since the command given to him was very simple and clear, he only had to refrain from eating the fruit of one tree. Everything else was available to him. This again illustrates God’s grace.

Marc Roby: The circumstances were certainly arranged to make it as easy as possible for Adam to obey, which makes his rebellion all that much more terrible.

Dr. Spencer: And I think we can reasonably conclude, based on the character of God, that Adam was the best possible representative we could have had. We shouldn’t think that we would have done any better.

Marc Roby: I know I wouldn’t want to make that claim.

Dr. Spencer: Nor would I, to do so would be to call God a liar since he says that his ways are perfect, which must include his choice for our representative. And Boice points out another important aspect relating to Adam’s representative role. He says that “the representative nature of Adam’s sin is an example of God’s grace toward us, for it is on the basis of that representation that God is able to save us.”[3] And he then quotes from Romans 5:19 where Paul wrote that “just as through the disobedience of the one man [which, of course, refers to Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [which refers to Jesus Christ] the many will be made righteous.” [4]

Marc Roby: That verse alone makes it pretty clear that God’s relating to us through the mediation of a representative is, ultimately, very gracious. If it weren’t for representation, there could be no salvation. If someone thinks it is unfair to be represented by Adam, then to be logically consistent, that person should also not want to be represented by Jesus Christ. But there is no salvation possible outside of Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And there is a lot more that could be said, but this is not properly part of the topic of anthropology, so I will defer further discussion along those lines to a later session. For now, let me just say one more thing about the cause of sin. Because Adam represented us, we share in his guilt and punishment. Part of that punishment consists in our being born with a sinful nature. The fact that Adam’s sinful nature is passed on to all of his natural descendants explains the universal nature of sin. We all sin because we are, by nature, sinners.

Marc Roby: I have never met the person who is an exception to that rule.

Dr. Spencer: Nor have I, nor will either of us ever meet that person in this life because there are no exceptions among Adam’s natural descendants. We are all sinners.

We do have a free will, meaning that we make real choices for which we can be justly held accountable. But as we discussed in Session 84, our will chooses according to our desires. And because we have a sinful nature, our desires are sinful. We may do things, and many people often do, that are in accordance with God’s law and are, therefore, good. But unregenerate men never do anything from a heart that desires to obey and please God, so even their outwardly good deeds are sinful because, as we’re told in Proverbs 16:2, “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.”

Marc Roby: The idea that we all inherited a sinful nature from Adam is not something that many people will readily accept.

Dr. Spencer: I am well aware of that. But we are examining what the Bible teaches, which is truth, not what man will readily accept. And that completes what I wanted to say for now about the cause of sin.

Marc Roby: I do have one question on this topic that some of our listeners may be wondering about though.

Dr. Spencer: What question is that?

Marc Roby: How is the sinful nature transmitted from parents to children? Since sin has to do with moral choices, it is clearly caused by our spirit, not our physical body. But where does our spirit come from? In Zechariah 12:1 we read, “This is the word of the LORD concerning Israel. The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him”. But, if God gives each new person his or her spirit, and the spirit is sinful, doesn’t that make God the author of sin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, this question is interesting, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it since the Bible does not give us enough information to form a firm answer. I would agree with your statement that if God creates each new spirit that seems problematic since our spirits are sinful. But, Wayne Grudem, for example, disagrees. He says that “there does not seem to be any real theological difficulty in saying that God gives each child a human soul that has tendencies to sin that are similar to the tendencies found in the parents.”[5] Now I disagree with his logic, but I would not want to be dogmatic on the point.

In one sense of course God is the one who makes us. Not just our spirits, but our bodies as well. In Psalm 139:13 the psalmist is speaking to God and says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” I think this is speaking about the whole person, not just the spirit. But we all know how babies are made. In one sense God can be said to do it, but he uses a human mother and father as secondary agents.

Marc Roby: And so, Zechariah 12:1 doesn’t necessarily imply that the spirit is somehow different from the body in that regard.

Dr. Spencer: I certainly don’t see any reason to draw that conclusion. But with regard to the larger question, there have been great theologians on both sides of the debate. Some, like Calvin favored the idea that God created each spirit individually. That view is called creationism. Others, like Luther and Jonathan Edwards, favored the view that we inherit our spirit from our parents, which is called traducianism. And, while I think that traducianism is the most likely answer, I would never be dogmatic about this at all.

Marc Roby: Very well, let’s not spend any more time on it then.

Dr. Spencer: Alright. Then let me continue with our outline of the doctrine of sin. The second component I mentioned is the nature of sin. And the biblical view is that man is totally depraved.

Marc Roby: And that terminology is, of course, easily misunderstood.

Dr. Spencer: Not only easily, but frequently misunderstood. So, let’s be clear about what we mean and what we don’t mean. To say that man is totally depraved does not mean that he is as bad as he can possibly be. Rather, total depravity means that there is no part of man that is unaffected by sin. Every part of our being is corrupted, so perhaps a better term would be pervasive depravity. But we are stuck with the existing term because it has been in use for so long that we really can’t avoid it. The really important point is that we not think we have some faculty, whether it be our reason, our will or anything else, that is unaffected by sin. But I want to put off further discussion of total depravity until we have given our definition of sin.

Marc Roby: Which is the third component of the doctrine that you mentioned, so please go ahead.

Dr. Spencer: Let me start by quoting the answer to Question 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It says, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”

That answer mentions two kinds of sin. First, it said sin is “any want of conformity unto” the law of God. This is often called a sin of omission – simply meaning that we didn’t do something we were obligated to do. Second, it mentions “transgression of” the law of God, which is often called a sin of commission – in other words, we do something that we are forbidden to do. In both cases, this definition makes it clear that it is the law of God that establishes what is and is not sin.

Marc Roby: And all sin can be seen, at its core, as being rebellion against God’s rule.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. At the end of the day, every sin, no matter how small, is a way of saying to God that you are independent and do not need to come under his rule.

Marc Roby: Very well. What about the laws that men make?

Dr. Spencer: We should almost always obey them. The laws of God are, of course, more important and trump the laws made by men, but so long as the laws made by God’s delegated authorities are proper, it would be sin to violate them.

Paul tells us in Romans 13:1-2 that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Marc Roby: When you say those laws must be “proper”, do you mean they must be fully consistent with the Word of God? Or do you just mean that they must not directly contradict the word of God by commanding us to sin?

Dr. Spencer: Well, let me first say that we absolutely must not obey any law of men that commands us to sin. In Acts Chapter Five we read about the apostles being arrested for preaching the gospel. They were put in jail overnight to await their appearing before the Jewish ruling council of elders, called the Sanhedrin. But, during the night, an angel of the Lord set them free and commanded them to go to the temple courts and preach the gospel. So, at daybreak, the apostles obeyed.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, didn’t sit well with the Sanhedrin.

Dr. Spencer: No, it didn’t sit well at all. The apostles were again arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. In Acts 5:28 we are told that the high priest said to them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

Marc Roby: And, by this reference to “this man’s blood” they were, of course, referring to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. In any event, we read the apostles’ response in Acts 5:29, they said, “We must obey God rather than men!” This is a very simple concept, but potentially with very serious implications. We have spoken at length about God’s delegated authorities in the state, church and home in Sessions 28-33. God expects us to respectfully obey all legitimate authorities. But if they tell us to sin, they are no longer exercising legitimate authority because God has not given any delegated authority the right to sin or to command others to sin. And it is also possible for them to overstep the bounds of their delegated authority, in which case we have the right, but certainly no obligation, to disobey. Now, obviously, refusing to obey authority, even if you do it respectfully, can be costly.

Marc Roby: It certainly can. If, for example, we think about a German soldier in World War II being commanded to help in one of the extermination camps, it is easy to see that failure to obey that order would most likely cost him his life.

Dr. Spencer: That is clearly a very extreme and unusual example, but nonetheless true. If you were ordered to kill innocent people that would be an order you would have to refuse even if it cost you your life. But there are much less-extreme examples that come up far more frequently and, I might add, also pose far more difficult questions.

Marc Roby: Can you give some examples?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Consider being a medical doctor in our current society. Suppose you have a patient come in for an examination and you find that he has a medical problem directly caused by homosexual behavior. If you are a Christian doctor, you might feel obliged to explain to the man that his medical problem is caused by his sinful behavior and that the best thing for him to do is to stop that behavior. But that would get you in a lot of trouble with most medical groups and might even cost you your job if you did it repeatedly.

Marc Roby: Yes, that could definitely be a very complex situation.

Dr. Spencer: And here is where I would have to say that each individual Christian has to decide for him or herself. As far as I can see, it would not be a clear sin to just treat the person and say nothing. Or, perhaps, you could just explain how the particular behavior caused the problem and suggest that he change his behavior without making any statements about it being sin.

Marc Roby: Yes, doctors certainly tell people, for example, that they would be better off if they stopped smoking, or lost weight, or got more exercise.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they do that all the time. But those behaviors aren’t as politically charged in our society and unless the doctor came across as insufferably condescending or judgmental it’s hard to imagine such advice causing any trouble. In any event, I think each Christian has to make decisions about these difficult questions on his own. They can, and should, get counsel, if possible, from their elders to help them make a decision that honors God.

Marc Roby: And that brings us right back to the idea that it is God to whom we are ultimately accountable.

Dr. Spencer: That is the most important point. God is the one who defines sin, not man. He has delegated to the state, the church and the family the authority to make other laws and rules as necessary to regulate the orderly functioning of the state, church and home, and Christians are obligated to obey those man-made laws almost always. And those laws can change. Different countries, states, churches and homes have different laws and rules, but they can still all be proper and binding on Christians.

Marc Roby: And such delegated authority, unless abused, is beneficial to mankind in general and to God’s church in particular.

Dr. Spencer: Oh, it certainly is. Christians would not be free to worship, live their lives for God’s glory and tell others about Christ if they lived in the midst of anarchy. The orderly operation of the state, church and home are absolutely necessary.

Marc Roby: And if we go back to the apostles again, who lived under Roman rule, we have an example of Christians living under a government that was, at times, very hostile to them.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, extremely hostile at times. And yet, in Romans 13:5 Paul said that “it is necessary to submit to the authorities” and, in Verse 7, he specifically told us to pay taxes, which were extremely unpopular at the time, Israel was under foreign rule.

Marc Roby: I think taxes are unpopular anytime, anywhere! And we could note that Paul was in agreement with Jesus on that point. Jesus also famously told the people to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” in Matthew 12:21.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We are to keep the order straight. God is the supreme ruler. But we must obey all delegated authorities unless doing so requires us to disobey God. If we disobey an earthly authority, the worst thing that can happen to us that we can be killed. But Jesus told us, in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Marc Roby: Well, we are out of time, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll respond as best we can.

 

[1] James Boice, , Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 206

[2] Ibid, pp 206-207

[3] Ibid, pg. 207

[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] Wayne Gudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 485

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