The Doctrine of Salvation (part 9)

July 12, 2009     Time: 00:36:58

There was a question about the quotation from Jimmy Dunn, who is a prominent New Testament scholar. Let me just read the quotation again. Dunn is wrestling with the question of what makes a person a Christian? What is it that really differentiates a Christian from a non-Christian? Is it that he goes to church? Is it he was baptized? That he confesses Christ? What is it that is the real difference between someone who is a Christian and someone who is not? What Dunn says is it is the presence of the Holy Spirit. The one person is born again – he is regenerated and therefore indwelt with the Holy Spirit. The other person is unregenerate and therefore does not have the Holy Spirit.

Dunn says, on the basis of his study of the New Testament,

The one thing which makes a man a Christian is the gift of the Spirit. Men can have been for a long time in Jesus’ company, can have made a profession of faith and been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, can be wholly clean and acceptable to God, can even be disciples, and yet not be Christians because they lack and until they receive the Holy Spirit. . . . This has an important consequence because it means the thing that determines whether a man is a Christian is not his profession of faith in Christ but the presence of the Spirit.

In other words, as Jesus said, you have to be born again.

START DISCUSSION

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes. I think that what he meant by that was you could be a good, God-fearing person who keeps the Jewish law like Paul did. Paul says, I was blameless in my righteousness before the law. I don’t think that what Dunn meant was that a person was actually, shall we say, justified before God. It could be that apart from the Holy Spirit. We’ll see when we look at justification this is something that is an action that God does. I think he was speaking in terms of externals.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I think the main point, though, was a good one. When we ask what makes a person a Christian, it is not just external behavior. There has to be this inner transformation that takes place through the Holy Spirit whereby you are born again to new life.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is a very difficult question. What you are asking is: exactly when is the moment that person is born again and regenerated by the Holy Spirit? Is it the moment he sincerely prays the prayer of invitation? Or could it be delayed somewhat? We have examples in the book of Acts there does seem to be sometimes a delay. It is hard to know if that could be operative today. I can think of an example from my own life where a fellow that I had led to Christ at Northern Illinois University named Matt prayed the prayer with me to receive Christ. He was sincere. I began to disciple him. We did Bible studies together to teach him how to grow and how to witness. Finally he felt convicted that he needed to be baptized even though as a youth he had been baptized as an infant. He was baptized then in a Christian church. He said it was at that moment that he felt truly the light came on and he was born again. He said, I was sincere but somehow it just hadn’t happened yet. For him, at least, it was when his conversion to Christ was completed by going through the waters of baptism that he felt that was the moment that he was really born again.[1]

I don’t think we can lay down any sort of hard and fast rule except to say that the Scripture promises that to all who received him he gave the right to become the children of God who are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God. There is a promise from God that if we turn to him in faith and repentance he will regenerate us and renew us. Whether that happens the minute the person prays the prayer or goes forward, that is not even in the New Testament – the idea of praying a prayer or going down the aisle or writing out a response card. These are all cultural accouterments that we sort of added. The exact moment when regeneration occurs, I don’t see how we can know. I think, as a non-Calvinist, what I do want to say is that if a person does sincerely turn to Christ in repentance and faith that God will not dishonor him and say, “No, I won’t regenerate you. I am going to leave you and pass over you.” I think that God’s desire that all persons should be saved and his desire to bring all persons to himself is a promise that we can hold to – that God is not going to just leave us.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I think Jesus says, My Father in heaven is the one who has revealed this to you, Peter.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The Scripture says in Romans that if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. So it is not just the external profession, as you said. It is also the interior belief – the belief of the heart – and placing one’s trust and faith in him. I am firmly convinced that our mainline denominations are filled with people who are making the verbal profession almost on a weekly basis. They may be reciting the Creed. They may be having genuine faith in Christ – I was one of those ones. I remember when I first began to attend church. I believed intellectually in all the right things, but I didn’t know him. I didn’t know Christ because I’ve never been born again. This is a call, I think, to self-examination on the part of folks who are professing Christ and making the good confession like Peter made to ask but has there really been a work of God in your heart? Are you really born again? Are you regenerate?

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I’m not so sure it is that clear. The doctrine that you are talking about is baptismal regeneration. This is the idea that baptism in the Holy Spirit is simultaneous with water baptism – that these two are concurrent and that therefore, as you say, this is the moment at which regeneration takes place. I am not so convinced that that is clearly taught. I think probably the John passage would be the best one in favor of that. But it seems to me in the book of Acts we have a number of examples of people on whom the Holy Spirit falls and then who are subsequently baptized. It is not that the Spirit of God falls on them during baptism. In the book of Acts you see baptism sometimes preceding the Holy Spirit coming on them. Sometimes it is the other way around – the order is reversed. I don’t think the Scripture is entirely clear on this. Experientially, I think at least, so many of us can testify that we’ve come to know Christ, that we’ve been born again, and then we went through the water baptism in obedience to that. But it wasn’t as though we were unregenerate when we walked down into those baptismal waters. We will probably talk about this more, I think, when we get to the next section about different views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.[2] Thanks for recording that viewpoint to get it out. This is an issue of debate.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Certainly repentance and faith would be the necessary heart preparation for being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Again, my Arminian slip, I suppose, is showing. I don’t think that God unilaterally just kind of regenerates a person and then the person has faith and repentance. It seems to me that these are necessary heart preparation for receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Were you here during the previous few weeks that we discussed that? We did, I think, air fairly the Calvinist perspective on this as well. You are certainly quite correct in saying for the Calvinist regeneration logically, at least, precedes the act of faith and all the rest. I disagreed with that point of view respectfully, but you are absolutely right in saying that that would be a difference.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Right. That’s the argument.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Let me read those in case some couldn’t hear your voice. He is reading from Romans 8:9 which I think goes to underline the point that Jimmy Dunn was making: “But you are not in the flesh. You are in the Spirit if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” That seems to me it couldn’t be clearer that it is the presence of the Spirit in a person’s life that makes the difference between being a Christian or non-Christian.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question was: shouldn’t it be clearer who has the Spirit by the fruit of the Spirit? That is, I think, right to say that Paul differentiates in Galatians 5 between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Someone who claims to be in the Spirit or have the Holy Spirit should be manifesting these character qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and so forth. Those will be the manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. That does seem to be quite correct. What is interesting is that it is not, I think, the charismatic gifts that are the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Corinthian church was suffused with charismatic gifts but they were the most carnal church in the New Testament – people getting drunk at the Lord’s table, a man living in incest, and the congregation split with all sorts of factions. The fruit of the Spirit is the real manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit, not just charismatic gifts.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is my inclination as well.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question was: on what basis can one have assurance that the Holy Spirit is in one’s life and that one is a regenerate Christian? It seems to me there are two levels on which you could answer that. One would be on the basis of the promises of Scripture that God and his word says that if we confess our sins he is holy and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God wants every person to be saved, and if we turn to him in repentance and believing faith we will be saved. So we can stake our claim, I think, on God’s promises, on his Scripture. But then in addition to that there is the witness of the Holy Spirit that Paul talks about in Romans 8, that John talks about in his first epistle, where Paul says, When we cry Abba, Father! in prayer to God as our Father, God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.[3] John says in his epistle that if we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, and he who believes in Christ has the testimony in himself which is the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is subjective in the sense that it is interior. It is not exterior. In that sense it is subjective. But it is not subjective in the sense that this is kind of worked up by your own religious emotions and affections. It is objective in the sense that this is something that God does to you. He produces in you. There is an external agent – God – who witnesses to your spirit that you are a child of God. Therefore, I think we would be completely mistaken to in some way downplay the importance of the witness of the Holy Spirit because it is “subjective.” It is only subjective in the sense of being interior, but it is thoroughly objective, as objective as being regenerate or as Christ’s death on the cross because it is something that an external agent – God – produces in us. He bears witness with our spirit that we are his children. A person should examine himself to see if he has done what the Scripture requires, and then whether or not he experiences the witness of the Holy Spirit in his life. Usually this goes under the name, in at least evangelical circles, called assurance of salvation – do you have assurance of salvation? That is the witness of the Spirit.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I think I was misunderstanding your question. You are talking about the state of the dead? OK. I think there the answer is fairly clear. Even today I would say it is the same. People do not go to heaven or hell when they die. This is a popular misunderstanding. Heaven or hell are the final state to which people will be consigned after the judgment at the end of the world. When people die now, both in the Old Testament and in New Testament times, they either go to be with God in paradise or with Christ (Paul says) or else they are separated from him and go to Hades. Hades is not the same as hell. Hades is a kind of separated realm where the unrighteous dead go until the resurrection at the end of the world. Hell, or Gehenna, is the final state. Paul says in Corinthians, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. That is our hope as believers. When the physical body dies our soul goes to be with Christ and to enjoy intimate conscious fellowship with him until he returns, the dead are raised, the souls of the righteous dead are reunited with their bodies, and then they go into the new heavens and new Earth after that.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is a somewhat different question. I am not sure what, if there is any, consensus on that. I haven’t read that much about Old Testament doctrines of salvation. But it would clearly be based upon the same principle of a faith response to God’s revelation that he has given them. No one, even in Judaism, was saved through works. It wasn’t as though people did the right thing and therefore God saved them. It would have been on the basis of a faith response to the revelation that God accorded them. For Abraham it would have been different than for, say, Moses and for Job, who wasn’t even an Israelite – wasn’t even a Jew. I think that that would be the common element in all of it – we are saved by God’s grace through faith. It will be to whatever information or revelation God gives us. The fullest revelation of his grace and plan will be through Christ.

Student: [inaudible][4]

Dr. Craig: The question was: is the kind of faith principle that I just enunciated relevant to this difficult question of the fate of the unevangelized? I think the answer is, yes, it certainly is! That was an issue that we did deal with earlier in this class in one of the other sections where we talked about how will God judge those who have never heard of the Gospel of Christ.

I think when you read Romans chapters 1 and 2 it is clear that God will not judge them on the basis of whether they believed in Christ – they’ve never heard of him! He will judge them on the basis of their response to the revelation that they do have. In nature and in the moral law of God written on their hearts, all persons everywhere at any time can know, Paul says, at least that there is an eternal God, a powerful Creator of the universe, and that his moral law renders them guilty and culpable before him.

Take a person like Job. He’s the premier example. Job was not an Israelite. He wasn’t part of the Old Testament covenant even. He was not a Jew. Yet, clearly Job had a personal relationship with God. God boasted of his righteous servant Job. Why? Job was evidently responsive to the revelation that he did have. I think that God will judge the unevangelized on the basis of their response to his general revelation in nature and conscience. If they will respond to that in faith – say, some Native American Indian living during the Middle Ages before missionaries arrive, and he senses the Great Spirit has made all of this around him and that all men are brothers made by the Great Spirit and that we should live in love for one another, but he senses he has failed to do so and is a miserable wicked person and so he flings himself upon the mercy of the Great Spirit pleading for forgiveness and mercy. The Scripture, I think, says God will applied to him the benefits of Christ’s atoning death even though he doesn’t have a conscious knowledge of Christ any more than Job had a conscious knowledge of Christ.

Are there going to be very many people like that? I think in all honesty, we have to say that if you read Romans 1 and 2, there are no grounds for optimism that there are very many people like that. The testimony of Romans 1 and 2 is that the mass of humanity, when judged by the standards of general revelation, find themselves condemned because they are unresponsive to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience. Many of us ask ourselves, will Aristotle be in heaven? We hope so. I really hope Aristotle gets in! But, well, we just don’t know whether or not his response to general revelation was sufficient. But I think it is certainly accessible for him and for others who have yet to hear the Gospel of Christ.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That depends on what you mean by universalism, I think. I do think salvation is universally accessible. I call this accessibilism rather than universalism. It is accessible to all persons anywhere because the Bible says God desires all persons to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. So it is accessible to everyone everywhere. But I don’t think it leads to universalism in any way because it is saying it is up to people whether or not they want to respond to God’s offer of salvation and that most of them unfortunately don’t and so find themselves condemned. I don’t think it even leads to a very . . . this is usually called inclusivism. Universalism would be the doctrine that all persons are going to be saved. Inclusivism would be the view that there are persons included in salvation even though they have no conscious knowledge of Christ. I don’t think what I said even leads to a broad form of inclusivism.[5] It would only lead to a very narrow inclusivism where maybe a few get in this way, but I don’t think on the basis of Romans 1 and 2 we can say at all that there are lots of people like this. At most this view would lead to a kind of narrow inclusivism. But I don’t think it in any way suggests that universalism is true.

END DISCUSSION

Let me say something about justification now. Here is the definition of justification:

Justification is that judicial act of God’s free mercy whereby he pronounces guiltless those sinners condemned under the law, constitutes them as righteous once and for all in the righteousness of Christ, on the ground of his atoning work, by grace through faith alone apart from works, and assures them of a full pardon, acceptance in his sight, adoption as sons, and heirs of eternal life, and the present gift of the Holy Spirit, and enables them to perform good works.

That is quite a mouthful! What we want to do next week and thereafter is to unpack this definition a little bit and look at its most important features so as to understand what justification means.

Let’s start off by talking about this notion of a judicial declaration. Notice that it says justification is a judicial act of God’s mercy whereby he pronounces guiltless sinners condemned under the law. What this is saying is that justification is God’s pronouncement of acquittal of those who are guilty before him. It is his declaration that they are forgiven and righteous in Christ. By saying it is a judicial act the idea means that this doesn’t mean that a person becomes suddenly a saint experientially. He may still have the old sin nature that drags him down, the old habits, the vices. Remember we talked about the flesh that still is in us, and we still have to mortify and put to death the flesh which is that evil sinful principal living within us. So it is not a kind of act whereby a person is turned from a morally degenerate person into suddenly this morally virtuous great guy who has no sin nature, no problems, or anything of that sort. Rather, it is a judicial pronouncement “not guilty” whereby God declares this person to be forgiven and constitutes this person as righteous in his sight through the righteousness of Christ.

What would be some scriptures that would support this view? Let’s look at Romans 4:2-8, 23-25. Here Paul is talking about Abraham and how Abraham was justified before God. Beginning in verse 2 he says,

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.[6] So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.”

That is how he dealt with Abraham. Now turn over to verses 23-25 for its application to us:

But the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Just one more passage – Galatians 3:6 – repeats this same terminology. “Thus Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” He then goes on to say so it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

This word “reckoned” is important. In the Greek it is logizomai which means to count in the sense of “does this count as righteousness” or “to calculate” or “to put to one’s credit” or “to put to one’s account.” That is the idea of reckoning. It is like reckoning books like an accountant does. He reckons the books. When he says here “it was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness” he is not using “reckoned” in the sense of a good ol’ boy saying “I reckon that’s so.” He is talking about reckoning in the sense of an accountant. It is counting.

Abraham didn’t, as you know, suddenly become a saint in virtue of having believed God – at least in an experiential sense. But his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.

I want to emphasize this doesn’t mean that salvation is a sort of legal fiction. This is a view that Christian theologians have been constrained to reject. It doesn’t mean that there is a sort of legal fiction that I am righteous in Christ. No! I really am! I really am righteous in Christ, but it is a matter of God’s crediting to my account righteousness rather than a kind of righteousness that I have inherent within me and I’m living out. Hopefully I will become more righteous as Christ lives out his life in me, but that will be a process over time. The declaration of my acquittal and my justification before God is a kind of reckoning or accounting.

The verb itself in the Greek, the word for justify, is dikaioo. This has the notion of putting someone into a right relationship. The relationship of acquitting them of sin – it puts them now into the right relationship with God. I think that this would be the basis upon which we would say that justification is primarily this juridical sort of action whereby God declares sinners not guilty and constitutes them as righteous in his sight.

START DISCUSSION

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I’ll read 5:19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience [that is, Christ] many will be made righteous.” This is very difficult. As I said, I want to disassociate what I am saying from the legal fiction view that they are just called righteous but they are not really righteous. No. I think you are right in wanting to say that we really are righteous insofar as we are in Christ, but it is a matter of a kind of accounting I think, or reckoning, as opposed to a moral transformation whereby I now am a virtuous person.[7] I think you would agree with that, wouldn't you? You would agree that I am still a sinful person.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I am not sure that would be fair . . .

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I think that the view you are describing would be what I call the legal fiction view, and I don’t think that that is fair to saddle him with that myself. On the other hand, I don’t think probably a Roman Catholic would dispute the fact that I am still a sinful person even though I’ve been made righteous in Christ. Luther had this notion that we are simultaneously righteous and sinners. He had the expression in Latin simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously righteous (or justified) and sinner. There is this kind of paradox that I think is inescapable that we find ourselves with, don’t you?

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yeah, in the same book.

END DISCUSSION

We are out of time, so we won’t get into it any more now, but we will continue with our discussion next week.[8]



[1] 5:10

[2] 10:04

[3] 15:09

[4] 20:07

[5] 25:01

[6] 30:13

[7] 35:15

[8] Total Running Time: 36:58 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)