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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, that is, repentance and faith. Dr. Spencer, we have established that true, saving faith boils down to trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our eternal salvation. What would you like to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to continue the discussion we were having at the end of our session last week. We made two points at the end of that session. First, that true, saving faith is always a penitent and obedient faith, and second, that true saving faith includes trusting in God’s Word, in other words, in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Yes, I remember your argument. You said that when a person is born again, he is able to see his own sin and his unworthiness, which is why he no longer trusts in himself. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one”.[1] That is why true, saving faith is always a penitent faith.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And, in addition, since a born-again person sees that Jesus Christ is worthy of worship and is the only Savior and Lord, he wants to emulate and please Christ, so his faith will be an obedient faith. Jesus himself said, in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” The Rev. P.G. Mathew wrote that “Faith means that we move our center from ourselves to Jesus Christ. Faith declares Jesus Christ as Lord of our life. Faith in its essence is committing ourselves to Christ that we may be saved.”[2]

Few professing Christians today think much about the fundamental confession of a Christian, which is that Jesus is Lord.

Marc Roby: We read that confession in Romans 10:9, where Paul wrote, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Dr. Spencer: And to say that Jesus is Lord is a very powerful statement. We need to take it seriously and think about it. It is much easier to say that I believe in Jesus than it is to say that he is Lord. But, if my faith is true, saving faith, then Jesus is my Lord. And, if that is true, then as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” We belong to Jesus Christ. He owns us. We have no right to think, speak and act any way we want to. We are to obey him immediately, exactly and with joy in all things at all times. That is true faith.

Marc Roby: And we need to repent daily because no one does obey perfectly.

Dr. Spencer: We certainly don’t. But if we don’t even have the desire to do obey, and if we don’t feel the need to repent over our failure to do so, then any profession of faith that we make is a lie. As John wrote in 1 John 2:4, “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, to obey Jesus, we must know what it is that he commands.

Dr. Spencer: That’s obviously true. And we learn what Jesus commands in the Bible. John Murray wrote that “To speak of knowing God and the truth that he is apart from the word of revelation which is incorporated for us in the Scripture is for us men an abstraction which has no meaning or relevance. When we are of the truth and know the truth we discern in the inscripturated word of truth the living voice of him who is the truth and there is no tension between our acceptance of the living God as ‘the only true God’ and of his Word as the truth.”[3]

Marc Roby: And so we could say that to truly trust in Jesus Christ then, includes trusting in the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: We could say that, yes. In fact, theologians speak of saving faith as having two different elements, or senses; general faith, and special faith. Louis Berkhof speaks about both of these in his Systematic Theology. Now, as is often the case with theologians, he uses the Latin phrases (pg. 506) fides generalis, meaning general faith, and fides specialis, meaning special faith. He wrote that by general faith “is meant saving faith in the more general sense of the word. Its object is the whole divine revelation as contained in the Word of God.”[4]

Marc Roby: Which, as we noted in our last session, makes sense since it is only in the Word of God that we learn about Jesus Christ and his redeeming work. It would make no sense to say that I trust in Jesus Christ if I don’t trust the only infallible source I have for knowing Christ.

Dr. Spencer: I’m glad you added the word infallible to your statement. I’m sure you did that because we do also have a personal, subjective, knowledge of Christ. But because our subjective knowledge can be so easily wrong, it must always come under the authority of God’s Word. So, for example, if my subjective sense of Jesus tells me that he is so loving he would never send anyone to hell, I have a problem.

Marc Roby: Yes, because we read in Matthew 7:23 that Jesus himself said he will tell the wicked, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Dr. Spencer: And, in the context of that statement, it is clear that it means he will send them to hell. He also said, in Matthew 25:46, that the wicked “will go away to eternal punishment”. So, our only infallible source of knowledge about Jesus is the Word of God as you said. And the Word of God, or the Bible, is, as I said a moment ago, also the only place where we find the commands of Jesus. I also like the definition that John Murray gives for faith in the general sense.

Marc Roby: What does he say?

Dr. Spencer: He wrote that “Fides Generalis is simply faith in the truth of the Christian religion. More specifically stated, it is faith of the truth revealed in the holy Scripture. More pointedly it is the faith that holy Scripture is the Word of God; it is our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of Scripture as the Word of God.”[5]

Marc Roby: I like his saying it is our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of God’s Word.

Dr. Spencer: So do I. Our salvation rests on the solid rock of God and his Word, not on our subjective ideas about God.

Marc Roby: Very well, so we have Berkhof’s and Murray’s definitions of faith in the general sense. What is the definition of faith in the special sense?

Dr. Spencer: Well, Berkhof wrote that special faith, “is saving faith in the more limited sense of the word. While true faith in the Bible as the Word of God is absolutely necessary, that is not yet the specific act of faith which justifies and therefore saves directly. … The object of special faith, then, is Jesus Christ and the promise of salvation through Him.”[6] He also wrote that “Strictly speaking, it is not the act of faith as such, but rather that which is received by faith, which justifies and therefore saves the sinner.”

Marc Roby: Now, that’s an interesting statement. I assume he means to guard against the wrong idea, which we discussed in an earlier session[7], that faith is somehow a valuable entity in and of itself, independent of its object.

Dr. Spencer: I think is exactly what he is guarding against. True, saving faith must have Jesus Christ as its object. As we read in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Marc Roby: In addition to saying that it isn’t the act of faith that saves, Berkhof also wrote that it is that which is received by faith which justifies and therefore saves the sinner.

Dr. Spencer: And that is a very important distinction. We often say that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, or sometimes just that we are saved by faith alone. But if we are going to be extremely careful, it isn’t faith that saves, it is Jesus Christ who saves. And we receive Christ, or we could say are united to Christ by faith. Faith is the instrument though which God unites us to Christ.

Marc Roby: You’ve noted before that faith has been called the instrumental cause of our salvation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I said that in Session 154. I also like what John Murray wrote about this. He said that “Faith is not belief that we have been saved, nor belief that Christ has saved us, nor even belief that Christ died for us. It is necessary to appreciate the point of distinction. Faith is in its essence commitment to Christ that we may be saved.”[8]

Marc Roby: That is yet another way of saying that true faith includes trust. It is a commitment to Christ.

Dr. Spencer: It is another way of saying the same thing, yes. We have said that true, saving faith has three elements: knowledge, or information, mental assent and trust. Or, to use the Latin terms, notitia, assensus and fiducia. The fact that true, saving faith requires trust is critically important.

It is illuminating to realize that the Devil himself has the first two elements of real faith. He certainly knows the content of the Bible much better than any human being does, and he also knows it is true. So he has the notitia and assensus. But he will not place his trust in Jesus Christ because he hates Jesus Christ. It is a moral problem, not an intellectual one.

Marc Roby: Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21 that “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, people don’t like to hear that, and I know that before I was saved I would have objected vehemently and denied that I was an enemy of God, but the Bible is clear that we all were. Anyone who denies that the God of the Bible really exists is his enemy. And the problem really is a moral one. In our unregenerate state we hate the true and living God because he is absolutely just and holy, and he knows everything we have ever done or thought and he is infinitely powerful to deal with us. That is terrifying and engenders hatred.

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ himself said, in John 3:19-20, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, Jesus is the light. Murray also wrote, “If faith is an act of whole-souled trust, we must be frank enough to acknowledge that the person dead in trespasses and sins, whose mind is enmity against God and whose characteristic attitude is one of hateful distrust, is incapable of exercising faith.”[9] Satan will not submit to God in loving trust because he hates God.

Marc Roby: And sinners refuse to trust in God for the same reason. But, praise God, that he has chosen to grant some new hearts so that can love him and trust in him. What else do you want to say about saving faith?

Dr. Spencer: Because the issue of trust is so important, I want to read what Wayne Grudem has to say in his Systematic Theology. He defines saving faith as “trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God.” And he then goes on to say that “The definition emphasizes personal trust in Christ, not just belief in facts about Christ. Because saving faith in Scripture involves this personal trust, the word ‘trust’ is a better word to use in contemporary culture than the word ‘faith’ or ‘belief.’ The reason is that we can ‘believe’ something to be true with no personal commitment or dependence involved in it.”[10]

Marc Roby: Yes, I remember you making a similar point last time when you said the NIV translation of John 14:1, which uses the word ‘trust’, was better than some others, which use the word ‘believe’, because in our day and age the word faith often does not have this element of trust included.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. Grudem goes on to give some examples of how we use the words believe and faith today. Someone might, for example, say that they “believe” something to be true, and what they mean is that they aren’t sure it is true. If they were sure, they would say that they “know” it is true. But to say you “believe” something is true in our modern usage implies less than certainty. It is probable, but not certain in your mind.

On the other hand, the word “trust” is stronger. You don’t drive across a bridge without trust that it will hold you up.

Marc Roby: Yes, that makes good sense.

Dr. Spencer: And Grudem makes another point that I think is worth mentioning as well.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: He looks at the original Greek for the famous verse John 3:16. In our Bible the verse reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And it is a wonderful verse.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is. But Grudem points out that when our translation says “that whoever believes in him shall not perish”, that isn’t a faithful representation of the original Greek. A more faithful translation sounds awkward in English. A literal translation would be to say that whoever believes into him shall not perish and Grudem notes that this has “the sense of trust or confidence that goes into and rests in Jesus as a person.”[11]

Marc Roby: That is a subtle, but important point. If I truly trust Jesus, I will entrust myself to him as my Savior and Lord for this life and the life to come.

Dr. Spencer: And with that, I think we are finished with what I want to say about true, saving faith at this time. Which also finishes the topic of conversion, which I hope our listeners remember is just repentance and faith together.

Marc Roby: And so the next topic in the order of salvation is justification, correct?

Dr. Spencer: It is. And justification is really the heart of the gospel.

Marc Roby: Alright. Well, it would seem unwise to begin a new topic today, so this looks like a good place to end. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our best to 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] P.G. Mathew, Faith of Our Fathers, sermon text available at https://gracevalley.org/sermon/faith-of-our-fathers/

[3] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg. 129

[4] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 506

[5] J. Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 241

[6] Berkhon, op. cit., pg. 506

[7] See Session 158

[8] Murray, op. cit., pg. 259

[9] Ibid, pg. 261

[10] W. Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 710

[11] Ibid, pg. 711

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. More specifically, we are discussing the ordo salutis, or order of salvation and we are in the midst of discussing conversion, that is, repentance and faith. Dr. Spencer, we have established that true, saving faith has content, but we don’t want to come up with a formal list of essential doctrines. The real issue is one of trust. We have said that a born-again person trusts the truthfulness of the revelation he has received, which may be a more or less detailed presentation of the gospel. So, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at what our Lord said after the Last Supper and before he was arrested. In Chapter 13 of John we read about Judas leaving the supper to go and betray Christ and then, after Judas left, Christ told the remaining disciples, as we read in John 13:33, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”[1]

Marc Roby: And Peter then quite reasonably asked where Jesus was going.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he did, and we read in Verse 36 that Christ said, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Marc Roby: To which Peter famously replied, in Verse 37, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Dr. Spencer: Peter was trusting in himself at this point. He thought he could remain faithful in his own strength. But Christ was about to teach him a very important lesson, one which we all need to learn, and that is to not to trust in our own strength.

Marc Roby: And that was a painful lesson.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it was very painful. But I’m quite sure that Peter never forgot it! Jesus answered him, in Verse 38, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” And we know that Peter did, in fact, disown Jesus, but then after his resurrection Jesus graciously reinstated him. And that leads us to the verse I want to begin with today. In the very next verse, Jesus said to them all, in John 14:1, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

Marc Roby: It was a mild, loving rebuke to Peter for trusting in himself.

Dr. Spencer: It was, yes. Jesus was making the very important point that we cannot ultimately trust in anyone or anything in this life. They will all fail us. God is the only one in whom we can ultimately place our trust and not be disappointed.

Marc Roby: As it says on the US dollar bill, “In God we trust”.

Dr. Spencer: And it’s not just on the dollar bill, it is on all US currency and is the official motto of the United States of America, although a lot of people don’t know that today.

Marc Roby: Yes, I’m sure many don’t know that. But getting back to John 14:1, I know that in both the King James Version and the English Standard Version of the Bible John 14:1 says that Jesus told them, believe in God, believe also in me, rather than trust in God, trust also in me.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The Greek verb being translated in both places in that verse is πιστεύω (pisteuō), and I think the NIV translation is better here, especially given modern ideas about belief. In Vine’s Expository Dictionary we are told that this verb means “‘to believe,’ also ‘to be persuaded of,’ and hence, ‘to place confidence in, to trust’”.[2] In addition, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says the word means “to trust” or “to rely on”.[3] And Walter Bauer’s Lexicon says it means to “believe (in)” and then goes on to say it is “trust of religious belief in a special sense, as faith in the Divinity that lays special emphasis on trust in his power and his nearness to help, in addition to being convinced that he exists and that his revelations or disclosures are true. In our literature God and Christ are objects of this faith.”[4]

I think these definitions all make it clear that the key idea behind biblical, saving faith is one of trust. And it is important to note that it isn’t a blind trust, it is trust based on knowledge. We trust because we are convinced that God is true and his Word is true. Therefore, we trust in the gospel message of salvation.

Marc Roby: Well, it certainly wouldn’t make sense to place your trust in something you didn’t think is true.

Dr. Spencer: No, that wouldn’t make sense at all. And Christ goes on in this passage to give his disciples great comfort by telling them, in John 14:2-3, that “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

This is the greatest promise you can possibly imagine, but it also implicitly provides the reason why we can trust Jesus. He first tells us that “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.” And then, secondly, he says he is going there, to his Father’s house, in other words to heaven, to prepare a place for us. And, finally, and most gloriously, he says he will come back to get us and take us to be with him in heaven.

Marc Roby: That is wonderful.

Dr. Spencer: It is the most wonderful thing that can be promised, but as I said it also implicitly gives us the reason that we can trust in Jesus. He is able to go to heaven on his own! He is able to prepare a place for us. And he is then able to bring us there to join him! This is incredible. No one but the perfect, eternal, God-man, Jesus Christ, is able to do this for us. We must trust in him alone.

Marc Roby: And as we said last time, true saving faith is, essentially, trust.

Dr. Spencer: It is. The theologian John Murray wrote that “faith is trust. Trust presupposes an object. An object evokes trust when there is an antecedent judgment of the mind that the object is trustworthy.”[5] Now, an “antecedent judgment of the mind” simply means a judgment made before we place our trust in the object.

Marc Roby: And, as we have said, the object of true, saving faith is Jesus Christ. And he is absolutely trustworthy.

Dr. Spencer: Which was the point he was making to his disciples. They knew him. They had travelled with him. They had seen him perform miracles – feeding thousands, healing the sick, walking on water, raising the dead – and so they had an intimate personal knowledge of him and knew that he was, in fact, trustworthy. This is, as Murray said, a judgment of the mind.

Marc Roby: People often think of faith as being divorced from judgments of the mind.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite true. Faith is often thought of as being anti-intellectual. But true, saving faith is not that way at all. We may or may not go through a conscious process of careful reasoning, but no one will trust in someone or something in a meaningful way without being convinced that the object of their faith is, in fact, trustworthy. And this requires that we use our minds. The Rev. P.G. Mathew wrote that “biblical faith is not blind. It does not require a leap in the dark or the sacrifice of our intellect. Biblical faith is reasonable because it rests on the greatest possible reason-the infinite, personal God and his word.”[6]

Marc Roby: I certainly can’t think of anyone or anything in creation that is worthy of complete trust.

Dr. Spencer: Well, there can’t be anyone or anything outside of the triune God who is ultimately worthy of complete trust because absolutely everything and everyone outside of God himself is a created being, and is completely dependent on God every moment of every day. No one can oppose God and succeed. Therefore, God will always accomplish all that he intends to accomplish.

So, when Jesus said that he is going to heaven to prepare a place for his people and that he will then come back and get us, we can be absolutely certain that it will happen.

Marc Roby: In other words, true, saving faith is not just a pie-in-the-sky hope. It is based on real knowledge about who God is and what he has done in history, which then gives us confidence in his promises.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. John Murray wrote that “Faith is trust, and trust induced or compelled by evidence. It is forced consent.”[7]

Marc Roby: Now that’s an interesting statement; forced consent. In what sense is our faith forced?

Dr. Spencer: It’s forced by the evidence. Unbelievers are suppressing the truth that they know as we are told in Romans 1:18. God has provided everyone with sufficient evidence. This suppression is not necessarily a conscious thing. It is embedded deep in our sinful nature. It begins with the most fundamental presupposition of our worldview. The unbeliever starts with the presupposition that the God of the Bible does not exist.

Marc Roby: And we are told in both Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 that it is “The fool” who “says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: But that does not mean that he may not make up a God of his own, the Bible is full of examples of all kinds of idolatry. But it does mean that the fool says there is no real, true and living God, in other words, the God of the Bible does not exist.

But, when God causes someone to be born again, that fundamental presupposition at the core of his worldview is changed. He now believes that God exists and accepts the testimony God has given about himself in the Bible. It is a fundamental and radical transformation, and although the transformation is instantaneous, its effects are not all instantaneous.

Marc Roby: Now, when you say that the effects aren’t instantaneous, you mean, I assume, that born-again people can still have doubts and not be certain about everything in God’s Word and that their behavior is not immediately transformed entirely.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. The more you have been indoctrinated in anti-God thinking, the longer it will usually take for you to come to terms with this radical new worldview. But, as Murray said, the consent is, in a sense, forced. It isn’t forced in the sense that God pushes on you and makes you cry “uncle.” It is forced in the sense that you see the truth and, whether you like it at first or not, you are forced by your own new born-again nature to accept it as true. Quoting from John Murray yet again, “We believe not what we could wish were true but what we are convinced is true.”[8]

Marc Roby: That is so clearly the case. If I believed what I wish were true, I would believe I have no sin, no sickness, no death, no trouble, the list could go on and on.

Dr. Spencer: And we can all agree with that, and add other items to the wish list. I would be the most intelligent, most talented, best looking, and most wealthy man alive. But such is not the case. And the reason that born-again people are forced to agree with God’s Word is simply that it is obviously true. We may like it if someone comes and tells us that we are perfect, or that we will never be sick again or never get old and die, we may want to believe such things, but we all know they aren’t true.

Marc Roby: And the Bible certainly makes no such statements.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. The Bible tells us what is true, whether we want to hear or not and completely independent of whether we like it or not. But getting back to the idea that our consent to the truth of the Bible is forced, it is forced by the truth. If we have been born again, then when we are confronted with the truth we respond properly. And the response is not just mental agreement with the facts. Trust is more than that. Louis Berkhof puts it well in his Systematic Theology, he wrote that trust “is the crowning element of faith. Faith is not merely a matter of the intellect, nor of the intellect and the emotions combined; it is also a matter of the will, determining the direction of the soul”.[9]

Marc Roby: In other words, as the well-know song says, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” We determine not just to believe, but to think and to live in the way God commands. In other words, to follow Jesus.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And doing that always involves constant change. As I said a few minutes ago, the transformation is instantaneous and radical, but the effects are not all instantaneous. The change is radical because we are instantly given a new heart and we see the truth. And because of the change in our fundamental presupposition, as we discussed earlier, we see everything differently, so, as time goes on we see more and more in ourselves that does not conform to the Word of God. We must continue to work all of our lives at putting our sin to death and walking in greater and greater obedience to God.

Marc Roby: And that process is called progressive sanctification.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And we will discuss that more later, but for now I want to point out that when we come to true faith we don’t just trust in Jesus Christ, we trust also in the Bible. Berkhof also wrote that “Naturally one who accepts Christ by a true faith, will also be ready and willing to accept God’s testimony as a whole.”[10]

Marc Roby: That makes good sense since the Bible is exactly where we learn of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: And it is where we learn how we are to change. The Bible is a mirror that shows us our own faults, and then it is also an instruction manual to show us how we should live.

If we say that we trust in Jesus, but we don’t really believe the Bible and if we never have it confront us with our sin and show us our need for change, then our confession is false, plain and simple. In the Great Commission, when Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending into heaven, he said, as we read in Matthew 28:19-20, that we are to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” And where do we find Jesus’ commands?

Marc Roby: In the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We must turn to the Word of God to see how to live a life that is pleasing to God. And true, saving faith, a faith that trusts in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, is also an obedient faith; true believers seek to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Marc Roby: To say that we want to be conformed to the image of Christ is certainly biblical. Paul wrote 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.”

Dr. Spencer: We have spoken about the need for obedience many times. We don’t earn our salvation by our obedience, but a true faith that will save us is always a penitent, obedient faith. We see that we are sinners and need to change, which is why we don’t trust in ourselves, in other words why our faith is a penitent faith. And we hate our sins and want to be done with them and we want to live in the way that pleases our Father in heaven. We want to be like our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whom we love, worship and seek to emulate, which is why our faith is an obedient faith.

God originally created man in his image and the fall horribly defaced that image. But, if we are alive in Christ, God is working to restore that image by transforming us to be like Christ.

Marc Roby: Well, this looks like a good place to end for today. 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] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 61 (in NT part)

[3] G. Friedrich, Friedrich, Gerhard (Trans. By G. Bromley), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI, Eerdmans, 1964-1976, Vol. VI, pg. 177

[4] W. Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 661 (see definition 2β)

[5] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 237

[6] P.G. Mathew, Faith of Our Fathers, sermon text available at https://gracevalley.org/sermon/faith-of-our-fathers/

[7] Murray, op. cit., pg. 238

[8] Ibid, pg. 240

[9] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 505

[10] Ibid, pg. 504

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

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

Marc Roby: OK, let’s do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: OK, that is rather shocking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Roby: I would have to say no one.

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

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

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

Marc Roby: And that is great place to end for today, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

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

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 475

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

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid, pp 156-157

[6] Ibid, pg. 155

[7] Ibid, pg. 159

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

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

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

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

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

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

[14] Ibid, pg. 504

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