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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. We have been discussing the doctrine of limited atonement and in our last session we noted that all true Christians believe that the atonement is limited in some way, since they all agree that not everyone is saved. So the real question becomes, “For whom did Christ die?” Arminians and others say that he died to make salvation possible for everyone, but the biblical position is that he died only for the elect.

We finished last time by showing that one of the best verses used by Arminians to support their position, 1 John 2:2, is actually compatible with either position and can’t decide the question. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to say a little bit more about 1 John 2:2. The verse says that Jesus Christ “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”[1] We showed last time that in speaking of “our sins” the apostle could very well be talking about Jewish believers, in which case the contrasting phrase “the whole world” would simply refer to non-Jewish believers. There is no need to assume that he is including all people without exception.

Marc Roby: Very well, what else do you want to say about that verse?

Dr. Spencer: Well, John Murray also deals with this verse in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. He notes that the apostle John could have three reasons for using the phrase “the whole world” without intending to indicate that the atonement was universal. His first reason is very similar to what I just discussed. Murray says that “It was necessary for John to set forth the scope of Jesus’ propitiation – it was not limited in its virtue and efficacy to the immediate circle of disciples who had actually seen and heard and handled the Lord”.[2]

Marc Roby: So, in other words, he is saying that when John refers to “our sins”, the group he has in mind is even smaller than all Jewish believers, it is only the “immediate circle of disciples”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. In which case, the phrase “the whole world” would refer to all other believers, whether they were Gentiles or Jews. But Murray goes on to give two more reasons why John used the phrase “the whole world”. The second reason he proposes is that John was emphasizing the exclusiveness of Jesus as the propitiation. In other words, there isn’t some other propitiation available for other people. Jesus is the only possible propitiation for everyone in the world.

Marc Roby: That would certainly make sense. What is the third possibility that Murray discusses?

Dr. Spencer: He points out that it was necessary for John to remind his readers that Jesus’ propitiation is of perpetual efficacy. In other words, it applies to future sins and future believers just as much as to those who were the immediate recipients of his letter.

Marc Roby: Yes, that all makes good sense. And I think it establishes conclusively that 1 John 2:2 does not argue persuasively in favor of either the Arminian or Reformed position.

Dr. Spencer: No, it clearly does not. And before we move on to make a positive biblical case for the fact that Christ died only for the elect, let’s look at one more verse that is sometimes used to support the idea that Christ died to make salvation possible for everyone, John 3:16. In that verse Jesus himself tells us, “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.” Some have claimed that when it says “God so loved the world”, it is referring to all people universally. The idea would then be that he gave his Son for everyone, but only those who believe in him “shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And how would you respond to that interpretation of the verse?

Dr. Spencer: I would say that it is reading far too much into the verse. Just as with 1 John 2:2 this verse does not provide clear evidence for either the Arminian or Reformed view. When Jesus tells us that “God so loved the world” there is absolutely nothing in the context or the verse itself that would prevent that from simply meaning he loved people from all different nations, cultures and epochs. In other words, his love was not exclusively to the Jewish people.

Marc Roby: That sounds perfectly reasonable. And even though we already dismissed the idea of universal salvation, I can’t help pointing out that if you look just two verses later, in John 3:18, it again provides clear biblical evidence that universal salvation is unbiblical. That verse reads, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Dr. Spencer: That is one of the many verses that make it clear that God is not going to save every person. Only those who place their faith, that is their trust, in Jesus Christ alone will be saved. But in any event, 1 John 2:2 and John 3:16 provide no support for the idea that Jesus died for the sins of every single human being. So we need to look elsewhere to answer the question, “For whom did Christ die?” And God didn’t leave us to wonder or speculate on this point. I’m going to begin by following John Murray in putting forward two arguments from Scripture that make the answer clear.[3]

Marc Roby: Okay, what’s the first argument?

Dr. Spencer: The first argument is based on Romans 8:29-39. Romans 8:29-30 set the stage for the following verses by identifying a specific group of people who are being written about, we read, “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. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Now twice in these verses Paul refers to those whom God predestined to be saved. And as we move on and look at the following verses, we must remember this context. Now let’s go ahead and look at the first two of the following verses.

Marc Roby: Very well, the next two verses are Romans 8:31-32, which read, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Dr. Spencer: And based on the previous verses, we know who Paul is referring to when he says that God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all”, the “us all” in this verse is all of those whom God has predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, in other words, those whom God has chosen to save. God gave Jesus Christ for the salvation of a specific group of people, not for all of mankind.

Marc Roby: These verses do state that quite explicitly. Although I can imagine someone objecting and pointing out that Paul said that God gave up his Son “for us all”. Some might say that the word “all” there is important.

Dr. Spencer: Murray deals with this argument decisively. He quite correctly stated that “It would be absurd to insist that the presence of the word ‘all’ has the effect of universalizing the scope. The ‘all’ is not broader than the ‘us.’ Paul is saying that the action of the Father in view was on behalf of ‘all of us’ and the question is simply the scope of the ‘us.’”[4]

Marc Roby: And it is clear given Verses 29-30 that the scope of “us” is all of those whom God has predestined to eternal salvation.

Dr. Spencer: And it becomes even clearer as you go on in the passage. The passage continues in Romans 8:33 where Paul wrote, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.” Paul is continuing to speak about the same group of people, those who are included in the statement that God gave up his Son “for us all.” The group referred to as “us” in that statement is again spoken of here when Paul asks “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” So the “us” are again seen to be those whom God has chosen. And then he says “It is God who justifies.” Which again refers to the same group of people as we see if we go back to Romans 8:30, where Paul wrote, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”.

Marc Roby: That is solid biblical evidence to support the Reformed view that Christ died only for the elect.

Dr. Spencer: And it becomes clearer and clearer as you go on in the passage. In Verse 34 Paul again refers to the fact that Christ died, and adds that he was raised to life and is “at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” And then in Verse 35 he asks the rhetorical question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

Marc Roby: And the obvious answer being that no one can separate us from his love.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And after asking that rhetorical question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”, he goes on to list different things that you might think could separate us and he then draws his wonderful conclusion in Verses 38 and 39 where he wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful passage that should provide great comfort to every believer. God, the Creator of all things, the Sovereign Lord of his creation, has purposed to save us and nothing and no one can thwart his eternal plan.

Dr. Spencer: That is great comfort and it again emphasizes the fact that this group of people for whom Christ died, is that group, and that group only, whom God has chosen and whom God will save eternally.

And now I want to look at Murray’s second biblical argument in support of the Reformed doctrine that Christ came to die only for the elect.

Marc Roby: Alright, please proceed.

Dr. Spencer: Murray’s second argument can be summarized by first saying that there is clear biblical teaching that all of those for whom Christ died will live a new life, meaning that they will put their sins to death and walk in obedience to God’s commands. They will not do that perfectly of course, but the change will be evident. And then secondly, we simply note the obvious, which is that not everyone lives such a life and therefore, Christ did not die for everyone.

Marc Roby: That second point is so obvious that it doesn’t need any support. There are many people who do not even pretend to want to follow God’s law, let alone have any success in doing it. In fact, I think it’s patently obvious that most people reject the Bible as having any authority to direct their lives. Therefore, it seems you really only need to make a biblical case for your first statement, namely, that there is clear biblical teaching that all of those for whom Christ died will live a new life. What biblical support do you want to present for that statement?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s do that in stages. First, in 2 Corinthians 5:14 we read that “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” We don’t need to spend any time figuring out who is referred to by the word “all” in this verse because it says explicitly that one, meaning Christ Jesus, died for all, and therefore all died. So, whatever group is referred to by “all”, we have established that every single person for whom Christ died, also died in some sense.

Marc Roby: And that is exactly what Paul also says in Chapter 6 of Romans. In Romans 6:2-3 we read, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is exactly right, and those verses show that when Paul said all died with Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:14, he didn’t mean literal physical death, he meant that they died to sin. In other words, they died to their old way of life.

And if you go on to next verse, Romans 6:4, Paul wrote that “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Which establishes that those who died with Christ did so in order that they could live a new life.

Marc Roby: And Paul goes on in that Chapter 6 of Romans to tell us about this new life. In Romans 6:6 we are told, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin”, and then in Verses 12 and 13 Paul says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: That is about as clear as it can be. And so, we have established that the Bible teaches us that those for whom Christ died also died with him. And they died in the sense of dying to sin in order that they can live a new life of obedience to God. Now, as we said earlier, it is patently obvious that not all people live such a life, so we can conclude that they have not died with Christ and, therefore, he did not die for them.

Marc Roby: That logic is quite solid. So I would that say Murray’s two arguments are very strong support for the Reformed view that Christ died only for those whom God chose to save.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but there is even more biblical evidence that we can adduce in support of this claim. For example, in John 10:14-15 we read that Jesus Christ said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” This metaphor of Christ as a shepherd and his people as his sheep is common in the Scriptures and it never refers to all people as being his sheep. And yet, we are told here by Jesus himself that it is for his sheep that he laid down his life.

Marc Roby: One of the places where we learn that not everyone is one of Jesus’ sheep is in Chapter 25 of the book of Matthew. Jesus tells us about the final judgment and says, in Verses 31-33 that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” And then Christ goes on to relate that the goats represent the wicked and will be sent to hell, while the sheep will go to heaven.

Dr. Spencer: That passage does make it quite clear that not everyone is considered one of Jesus’ sheep, and therefore when Jesus said in John 10:15 that “I lay down my life for the sheep” he was implicitly excluding other people. An even better set of verse to support the idea that Christ only died for the elect is found in Romans 5:8-10.

Marc Roby: Okay, let me read those verses. Paul says there, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

Dr. Spencer: Those verses are again quite explicit. Paul says Christ died for “us” and then goes on to say who is meant by “us.” It is those who are justified by his blood, saved from God’s wrath, reconciled to God and saved through his life. In other words, Christ died for those who are actually saved, not all men.

Marc Roby: Do you have any last quick points to make before we run out of time for today?

Dr. Spencer: I’ll cite just one more verse. In John Chapter 17 we read what is called Christ’s high priestly prayer. This was a public prayer that he made just before being arrested and crucified. And in Verses 6 and 9 we read that he said to God the Father, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. … I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” While this is not conclusive by itself, it would be completely unreasonable to think that Christ died for people he was not even willing to pray for.

Marc Roby: I certainly see your point, and I think we have made a solid case for the Reformed position that Jesus only died for the elect, those whom God chose, from all eternity, to save. Now let me 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] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 73

[3] Ibid, pp 65-71

[4] Ibid, pg. 66

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. We have been discussing the doctrine of limited atonement and in our last session we finished with the four specific categories in terms of which the Scripture sets forth the atoning work of Christ according to the theologian John Murray.[1] He lists the following: sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. So, Dr. Spencer, how would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we have covered what is meant by atonement, which is far more comprehensive and glorious than many modern Christians realize. But we now have to deal with that troublesome word “limited”.

Marc Roby: And, of course, the only other options to a limited atonement would be either no atonement at all, or a universal atonement.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. We’ll ignore the logical possibility of no atonement because the whole of biblical Christianity deals with the fact that God saves his people and, therefore, has atoned for their sins. If God didn’t provide an atonement for our sins, then everyone, without exception, would be doomed to hell.

But we do need to deal with the other possibility. There are people, even some professing Christians, who believe that ultimately, everyone will be saved, which would require that the atonement be universal, rather than limited. But such a notion is completely unbiblical.

Marc Roby: Although, shockingly, even the current Pope believes in universal salvation.

Dr. Spencer: He certainly seems to. The Apostolic Exhortation he wrote soon after becoming Pope in 2013, called Evangelii Gaudium, which means the joy of the gospel, displays his universalism rather clearly by speaking of God’s love to all men without distinction and by saying that Jews and Muslims worship the same God as Christians. I’ve written a brief analysis of the Pope’s exhortation, which is available on the web. It’s useful to see how a humanist philosophy can cause a person to pervert the gospel. And the link is in a footnote to this podcast transcript.[2]

Marc Roby: And the Pope’s view is shocking because, as you noted, the idea of universal salvation is completely unbiblical. For example, we read in Matthew 7:13-14 that Jesus himself said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [3]

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, Jesus is speaking in that passage about eternal destruction and eternal life. He makes that absolutely explicit in the 25th chapter of Matthew where he talks about the final judgment. We read in Verses 32-33, “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

Marc Roby: And the sheep represent Jesus’ chosen people, for whom he is the Good Shepherd as he tells us in John 10:11.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And continuing with Matthew 25, in Verse 34 we read that Jesus said, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” But, to those on his left, the goats, we read in Verse 41 that he will say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And he makes the eternal nature of both completely clear in Verse 46, where he says that those who are cursed “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Marc Roby: People don’t like the idea that anyone is cursed by God, but it is a clear teaching of Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, many people will deny it because they don’t like it, but we can’t let what we like and don’t like determine what we think is true. We need, instead, to change what we like and don’t like to conform to what God says is good and true.

We are all rebels who deserve to be cursed by God, but the amazing thing is that he chooses to save some. But he does not save everyone, and there are many more Scriptures that show the idea of universal salvation is completely unbiblical. For example, in Revelation 20:12 John wrote, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life.” And in Verse 15 he wrote that “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” He also tells us that the lake of fire is the second death, in other words, it is not just the physical death of this body, it is eternal death. It is hell. In Verse 10 of that Chapter he called it a lake of burning sulfur. He wrote, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

Marc Roby: That is the most terrifying thought imaginable.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. We need to be serious about our salvation. And this question about how the atonement is limited is a very important question. We’ve dismissed the idea that Christ didn’t atone for the sins of anyone, and we’ve shown that the idea that Christ atoned for the sins of everyone is unbiblical, so now it’s time to look at the precise way in which Christ’s atonement is limited.

Marc Roby: And, although the phrase “limited atonement” is usually associated with Reformed, or Calvinistic, theology, the truth is that all true Christians believe that Christ’s atonement is limited in some way.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, because all true Christians will admit that not everyone is saved. Therefore, either Christ’s atonement was not efficacious in saving everyone, or it was never meant to save everyone. But either way, it is limited.

Marc Roby: And, of course, when our Arminian brothers and sisters claim that Christ’s atonement made salvation possible for everyone, they are, in essence, admitting that it was not efficacious for everyone.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great point. John Murray makes the same point in his excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, which we have used a number of times. He wrote, “If some of those for whom atonement was made and redemption wrought perish eternally, then the atonement is not itself efficacious. It is this alternative that the proponents of universal atonement must face. They have a ‘limited’ atonement and limited in respect of that which impinges upon its essential character. We shall have none of it.”[4] We could put this another way; if the atonement has universal applicability, in other words, if Christ died for all men, then his death didn’t really save anyone, it only made salvation possible. Our response then becomes the deciding factor.

Marc Roby: But in Matthew 1:21 we are told that the angle of the Lord spoke to Mary’s husband, Joseph, and told him that “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The angel didn’t say that Jesus would make salvation possible.

Dr. Spencer: And this issue is so important that I want to take some time to look at it in reasonable detail. And before we do that, we need to make an important distinction. We need to recognize that there are two completely different kinds of debts that we can owe.

Marc Roby: And what are those?

Dr. Spencer: We can have what is called a pecuniary debt, or a judicial debt. The word pecuniary comes from the Latin word for cow, or money. A pecuniary debt is a financial debt. So, for example, if I purchase a car without paying the full amount up front, I incur a debt for a particular amount of money. Let’s say that I owe $10,000. Now if some generous person, such as my good friend Mr. Roby, chooses to go to the bank and pay the $10,000 I owe, my debt is paid in full and the bank has no right to expect any additional payment from me or anyone else.

Marc Roby: That would indeed be a very generous thing for me to do.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would. But my point is that the bank is not being generous or gracious in any way by accepting your payment on my behalf. They only have the right to be paid $10,000, it makes no difference who pays it and they have no right to expect any additional payment, the debt is paid in full. In fact, if I didn’t know that you had paid it in full and I sent in a payment of $1,000, the bank would be obliged to pay the $1,000 back to me.

Marc Roby: That’s all clear, but what about the other kind of debt, what you called a judicial debt?

Dr. Spencer: A judicial debt is forensic, meaning that it has to do with justice, and courts of law. If someone murders another person, for example, there is no exact payment in kind possible. Even if the offender is put to death, it doesn’t bring back the person who was murdered. In this case, we are really talking about punishment, not repayment.

Charles Hodge explained the difference this way, “In the case of crimes the matter is different. The demand is then upon the offender. He himself is amenable to justice. Substitution in human courts is out of the question. The essential point in matters of crime, is not the nature of the penalty, but who shall suffer.”[5]

Marc Roby: That is an important point, the essential thing is punishment. As you said, it isn’t a matter of repaying some financial obligation.

Dr. Spencer: Hodge also brings out another important difference between financial obligations and crimes.

Marc Roby: What difference is that?

Dr. Spencer: That the penalty cannot be paid by someone else. As Hodge said, “Substitution in human courts is out of the question.” If I commit a crime and am sentenced to a year in jail, you cannot serve the sentence on my behalf.

Marc Roby: Yes, that too is an important difference.

Dr. Spencer: And now let’s apply this to the topic of the atonement. When we speak about our sins being paid for, we are not talking about a pecuniary debt. There is no exact payment possible. If I offend God and violate his law in some way, there is no way for me to satisfy that debt with some kind of equivalent payment in kind. In fact, as we have noted before, since God is infinite in his person and glory, when I sin against him my debt is, in some sense, infinite.

Marc Roby: Which is an insurmountable problem for us as finite beings.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. But – and here is where God’s amazing grace, wisdom and love come into play – God does two things to solve this problem. First, he graciously accepts a substitute in my place, which is something a human court of law will not do. I am the one who deserves to be punished, but God allows my punishment to be taken by another.

Marc Roby: There is still a problem though, this substitute has to be capable of satisfying the infinite debt. And no mere creature can do that. We can spend eternity in hell and the debt is still not paid.

Dr. Spencer: And so, the second amazing thing God does is to provide an acceptable substitute, one who can pay an infinite penalty. In other words, he provides a substitute who’s sacrifice has infinite worth. Jesus Christ, the unique God-man is that substitute. We will see several times as we move on with our discussion why this distinction, namely that my sin leads to a judicial debt rather than a pecuniary debt, is so important in discussing the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

Marc Roby: Alright, so then we are ready to move on with discussing whether Christ’s work of atonement made salvation possible for everyone or if it was only for those who are actually saved.

Dr. Spencer: We are. And the first point to make is that because this is a judicial debt, not a pecuniary debt, and because Jesus Christ is infinite God as well as fully man, his death was of sufficient worth to pay for all the sins of every human being who has ever existed or ever will exist. Arminian and Reformed believers agree on this point. Therefore, the real question in dispute is not over the worth of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Rather, the real question could be put this way, “For whom did Christ die?” Did he die to pay for the sins of all men? That is the position taken by Arminians, Lutherans, Dispensationalists and others, which I am calling the Arminian position for brevity. Or, did Christ die only for the elect? That is the Reformed and, I would say, biblical position.

Marc Roby: How do you want to approach resolving this question?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin by looking at some of the evidence usually adduced in favor of the Arminian position.

Marc Roby: Very well. I know that Arminians often cite 1 John 2:2 in support of their position. In that verse the apostle wrote that Jesus Christ “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Dr. Spencer: That is one of their strongest pieces of support, but when you examine it carefully in context it really doesn’t directly argue for their position at all. This verse alone is perfectly agreeable with either position.

Marc Roby: Okay, can you explain how that is so?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. First of all, phrases like “the whole world” can mean different things in different contexts. For example, in Luke 2:1 we read that “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” I’ve used the English Standard Version here because it renders the Greek more literally. The question is, obviously, what is meant by “all the world” in this verse. The 1984 NIV that we usually use renders the verse this way, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” The word Roman is not in the original Greek, but it is certainly an accurate translation nonetheless. It is obvious that Caesar Augustus did not issue a decree that a census should be taken in China for example. So, given the context, “all the world” means the entire Roman world.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s pretty obvious.

Dr. Spencer: And so, in the same way, we need to ask what the phrase “the whole world” means in 1 John 2:2. The verse says that Jesus Christ “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Notice that “the whole world” is contrasted with a smaller group, of which the apostle and his readers are members. He refers to “our sins”, so we need to know who this group he refers to with the word “our” is.

R.C. Sproul does a good job of looking at this verse in his book What is Reformed Theology? And he notes that the word “our” could possibly refer to Christians in contrast with non-Christians. And, if that were the case, then “the whole world” would refer to non-Christians and the verse would support the Arminian position.[6]

Marc Roby: What is the other option that Sproul mentions?

Dr. Spencer: That the word “our” could refer specifically to Jewish believers. Sproul writes that “One of the central questions of the church’s earliest formative period was this: Who is to be included in the New Covenant community?”[7] If you take the word “our” in this sense, then the phrase “the whole world” would simply refer to non-Jewish believers. There would be no reason to assume that it refers to unbelievers at all.

Marc Roby: That makes good sense, and certainly shows that this verse is consistent with either view and does not, by itself, point us one way or the other. I 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. And we will do our best to respond.

[1] J. Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 19

[2] Dr. Spencer has written a brief analysis of the Pope’s declaration, which is available here (https://gracevalley.org/teaching/pope-francis-an-analysis-of-his-apostolic-exhortation-evangelii-gaudium/).

[3] 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.™.

[4] Murray. op. cit., pg. 64

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 470

[6] R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 176

[7] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, last time we were discussing the question, “Why did God make man?” I think it would be good to give a brief summary of how we answered that question to set the stage for our discussion today.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, please do.

Marc Roby: Alright. We first presented the biblical answer to the question, which is that God made us for his own glory. And we then noted that we glorify God by obeying him, as Christ himself said in John 17:4. We also discussed the fact that as Christians we can have great joy even in times of suffering and that the Bible commands us to test ourselves to see if we are truly saved. Finally, we started to examine the first letter written by the apostle John to see how we are to test ourselves.

Dr. Spencer: And I quoted from the Rev. P.G. Mathew’s commentary on First John, which says that John provides “three biblical tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test, and the social test.”[1] We then dealt with the first of these, the doctrinal test.

Marc Roby: Although we didn’t give an exhaustive test of essential doctrine.

Dr. Spencer: Nor did the apostle John. He just gave some examples of the most important doctrines, like the full deity and humanity of Christ and the sinfulness of man.

Marc Roby: And, at the end of the session, you also mentioned Christ’s atoning death on the cross and his bodily resurrection as essential doctrines.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I did. In 1 John 2:2 we read that Christ, “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”[2]

Marc Roby: We probably need to point out that this verse does not lend any support to the heretical idea that all people will be saved.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t support the idea of universal salvation at all. You have to read the verse carefully and interpret it in light of the clear teaching of all of Scripture.

Marc Roby: Which is the first rule of hermeneutics; that we must use Scripture itself to understand Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And for interested listeners, we covered hermeneutics, which is the science of interpretation, back in Sessions 39 through 48.

Marc Roby: I think it would also be good to point out that there is a topical index available, as well as a scripture index and an index of all references used in these podcasts. So our listeners can find where we have discussed different topics or verses in the Bible. These indexes are all available on our website at whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a good reminder. And now, betting back to 1 John 2:2, notice exactly what John says in the verse. He first says that Christ, “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins”, which is addressed to the original recipients of this letter. He was assuming that they were Christians, although I’m certain he was aware that non-Christians would read his letter too, so you don’t want to make too much of that point. He just didn’t want to take the time in this spot to spell out exactly who was included in the statement.

Marc Roby: Yes, our writing and speech would be pretty cumbersome if we always explained every possible exception or precisely defined every general statement.

Dr. Spencer: It would be very tiresome indeed. In any event, he then goes on to say that not only did Christ provide the atoning sacrifice for the recipients of this letter, but also, “for the sins of the whole world.”

When you see the contrast he is making you realize it isn’t at all necessary to assume that he means every single person in the world without exception. The statement makes perfectly good sense if all he had in mind were all believers everywhere, in contrast to the smaller group of believers to whom he was writing. And when you look at the rest of the Bible, it is abundantly obvious that not everyone will be saved.

Marc Roby: There is no doubt about that fact when you look at the whole Bible. For example, in Matthew 25 Jesus tells us he will separate the people into two groups and in Verse 41 we read, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a terrifying verse, and it certainly shows that not everyone will be saved. I’ll cite just one more example to solidify this point. In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus told us, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Marc Roby: That’s another sobering verse. So the first test to know whether or not we are saved is doctrinal. If we don’t agree with the clear teachings of the Bible, we have no basis for believing we are saved.

Dr. Spencer: And in order to agree with the Bible, we must obviously know what it says. Therefore, being biblically illiterate is not an option for a true Christian.

Marc Roby: And I would say that anyone who has been born again will have a desire to read the word of God.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, but let’s move on with examining John’s letter. The second kind of test John gives is moral. For example, in 1 John 2:3 we are told, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

I don’t know how John could have made this any clearer. The modern idea that we can have Jesus as Savior without having him as Lord; in other words, that I can be saved without any obedience, is completely contrary to the teaching of the apostle in these verses.

Marc Roby: And he was very politically incorrect in how he stated it. He says that anyone who claims to know Jesus Christ, by which he obviously means to know him as Savior, but does not obey him, he’s a liar. In other words, he is not saved.

Dr. Spencer: It goes against the grain in our culture, but our testimony about ourselves is of no value on the day of judgment. Our self-esteem and our self-evaluation will not matter. All that will matter is what Jesus says about us. If he says, “This one is mine, I died for his sins”, then we will be saved. If he says, “depart from me, I never knew you”, then we will be eternally dammed. There is no way to soft-pedal the true gospel. We do not earn our salvation nor do we, or could we, pay for it in any way. But, at the same time, the basic confession of Christianity is that Jesus is Lord, which implies that I am his bond slave. In other words, my salvation costs everything I am and have.

Marc Roby: And, as we noted in Session 95, Jesus provides the example for us to follow. We are to be conformed to his image. And John explicitly uses this as one of his moral tests. He wrote, in 1 John 2:5-6, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”

Dr. Spencer: I love the biblical imagery of walking. It is far more descriptive than to say we should live like Jesus did. It implies effort and motion, taking one step after another. And the apostle Paul uses the same imagery. For example, in Ephesians 2:1-2 he wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live”. In the Greek it actually says “in which then you walked”.  The Greek word is περιπατέω (peripateō), which is the origin of our word peripatetic.

Marc Roby: And Paul uses the same word again in Ephesians 2:10. Let me quote it from the English Standard Version since it gives a more literal rendering of the Greek. It says that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Dr. Spencer: And there we have the moral test in a nutshell. Paul agrees completely with John as we would expect since they were both inspired by the Holy Spirit, who is the true author of the entire Bible. We are to walk in the ways God has foreordained for us, being obedient to his revealed will. We are to walk as Jesus walked when he was on this earth.

Marc Roby: And he said, in John 8:29, that “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

Dr. Spencer: And we understand that we will not do that perfectly, but we must not use that as an excuse. We should be striving to do the will of God. I want to give a stern warning to our listeners. If you think you are a Christian, but that does not affect how you walk day by day in every area of life, then you must seriously question whether or not you have truly been born again. Read through the New Testament and note how many times it speaks of the necessity for us to live an obedient life.

Marc Roby: Yes, and how many times we are warned to test ourselves and to be sure about it.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right.

Marc Roby: But we still have one more type of test to examine; the social test.

Dr. Spencer: And we see the social test, for example, in 1 John 1:7, where we read, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another”, which ties the moral and social tests together, and again makes use of the walking metaphor for life. If we walk, or live, as Jesus did, then we will also have fellowship with each other. That is the social test.

Marc Roby: And in 1 John 2:9-10 we read, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, this is, again, a common teaching throughout the New Testament. If we have been born again, we love other people. Other Christians first, but even our enemies. Paul wrote in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” We are to love our enemies enough to do good for them, to share the gospel with them and pray for their salvation. And we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ and have fellowship with them.

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ told us the same thing. During the Last Supper Jesus said to his disciples, as we read 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: Yes, if I had to give a one-word answer to the question, “How is a Christian to live?” I would have to say “love”. But the answer is only correct when you apply a biblical definition of the word love. Jesus himself said, in Matthew 22:37-40, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Marc Roby: And he also tells us in John 14:15 what it means to love God, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: And to love our neighbor as ourselves is summed up in the moral and social tests given by John. But, and this is a critically important qualification, we spoke earlier of the necessity for a Christian to be biblically literate and to agree with what the Bible teaches. This point is never more important that when you say that a Christian should love others.

I see yard signs all around our town that say love, but the clear message of these signs is that it doesn’t matter how a person lives. The message is that same-sex couples or transgender couples or whatever are all equally right. That is absolutely not the teaching of the Bible. I’m not saying that we should treat such people disrespectfully or attack them, but we dare not pretend that God approves of their conduct or that it doesn’t matter, that is not loving them. It matters eternally because they are rebelling against Almighty God.

Marc Roby: I’m sure we’ll spend more time on human sexuality later in our discussion of biblical anthropology, but do you have more to say about the social test?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. This is a point on which many modern churches fail miserably. I remember years ago a young woman in our church was away at law school and attended a different church while she was there. That church had a series of teachings on hospitality, but even after several weeks of such teaching no one even bothered to introduce themselves to her, find out about her, or ask her over to lunch. They sat next to her in the pew and then got up and went on about their own lives. That is not true Christian fellowship. We must care about other human beings. There are no Lone-Ranger Christians, but there also should not be Christians who only have their set group of friends and never reach out to anyone else.

Marc Roby: And we have to admit that we all have that tendency. But the bottom line is that love must be other oriented; it must look outward.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it must. It is often said that there are three marks that characterize a true church. Article 29 of the Belgic Confession deals with these marks. It says, “The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults.”[3] But our pastor, the Rev. P.G. Mathew has proposed there should be a fourth mark, and I think that’s completely biblical, and that fourth mark is community life.[4]

Marc Roby: We read about the earliest days of the church in Acts 2:42 where it says that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Dr. Spencer: It’s interesting to note that fellowship was listed second after only the apostle’s teaching. We need each other to live the Christian life. We need accountability, we need encouragement and sometimes we need physical help. And it isn’t just that I need help from others, I need to use my gifts and resources to help others as well. It isn’t healthy to live a self-focused life.

Marc Roby: And this admonition to love one another or serve one another is common in the New Testament. Paul wrote in Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” And then again, in Romans 13:8 he wrote, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.”

Dr. Spencer: And Peter said much the same thing. We read in 1 Peter 1:22, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”

Marc Roby: And in John’s first letter, which we’ve been examining, we read the phrase “love one another” five times. In 1 John 3:11 we read, “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” And then in Chapter 3 Verse 23 we read, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

Dr. Spencer: And in 1 John 4:7 we are told, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Which again tells us that this is a good test of our salvation. If we love the way the Bible commands us to love, we have been born of God and we know God.

So, to recap what we have said, the purpose of life from our perspective is to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and to serve him all of life. If we do that, we will have eternal joy in his presence.

And the Bible commands us to test our faith and see if it is genuine. John’s first letter gives us three tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test and the social test.

Marc Roby: And we certainly hope that all of our listeners will pass these tests or cry out to God for mercy if they don’t. And with that, we are out of time for today, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

 

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

[2] 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.™.

[3] E.g., see https://reformed.org/documents/index.html

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 341

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