Message 12, Questions and Answers #2:
Kevin DeYoung, W. Robert Godfrey, Stephen Nichols, R.C. Sproul, and R.C. Sproul Jr. answer questions on topics such as modern advancements in medical technology, children who die in infancy, what Heaven will be like, and more.
- Considering that Coptic Christians believe Jesus had only one nature (monophysites), can we consider them Christians? (00:30)
- With all of the advancements in medical care in helping to keep people alive, what is the Christian’s responsibility in accepting these medical advances? Can a Christian say no to medical treatment or do we have the responsibility to seek any and all treatment available? (06:00)
- How do I faithfully keep the 5th commandment when I have two mothers instead of a father and a mother? (09:13)
- Are women who profess to be Christians, but proceed with an abortion on the promise of forgiveness, truly saved? (15:03)
- What do we say to a mother who has lost her child in infancy when she asks, “is my child in Heaven?” (24:53)
- My teenage daughter stated, “how boring heaven must be if all we are doing there is worship God.” It was a thought and statement that took my breath away. What do you think heaven will be like? (27:32)
- We are told to obey our government. Was it sinful for Tyndale to translate and print the Bible? (33:23)
- If the devil is not omnipresent, how much of our sin is a result of our sinful nature as opposed to temptations of the devil? (35:07)
- Since Jesus received our punishment, why do Christians still receive punishment for sins they commit? For example, why would a Christian become sick or die for not judging themselves rightly before communion (1 Cor. 11)? (36:10)
- Sadly, I do not have a great love for my fellow man. I do not have a great fear for the lost. I tell myself that I love God, and want to serve and please Him. Am I fooling myself on my salvation? (42:25)
- I am in leadership at a very traditional Baptist church. My pastor knows of my Reformed leanings. How can I best serve my church while pushing and praying for reformation? (48:38)
Note: Answers given during Questions and Answers sessions reflect the views of the individual speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dr. R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries. Here is our Statement of Faith.
LARSON: Welcoming here with us for the first time, Dr. Robert Godfrey and Reverend Kevin DeYoung. We’re looking forward to hearing from you both later today as well.
So, we’re going to jump right into it, as we always do, with our questions. A couple — one, very timely, relating back to what we saw on the news last weekend, pertaining to the Coptic Christians that were martyred there along the beaches in Libya.
And the question comes to us: “Considering that Coptic Christians believe Jesus had only one nature (monophysites), and would’ve been condemned by Nicea, can you consider them Christians?” Not these particular people, of course. We’re talking about just this category.
SPROUL JR.: Sounds like a question for a church historian, to me.
GODFREY: Pardon me? SPROUL JR.: Should be a church historian question, I think.
SPROUL JR.: Should be a church historian question, I think.
GODFREY: Well, they were condemned by Chalcedon, not by Nicea. That’s my contribution. Well, I — you know, I — councils usually condemn heresies, not individuals. And, you know, it’s always fair to ask: Do the people who belong to a certain group actually embrace the heresy that’s been condemned?
And I think there is some evidence that the Cops and some of those, historically monophysite, have moved away, to some extent, from their monophysite convictions.
SPROUL: I have two questions about that. If we ask —
GODFREY: You’re supposed to answer questions!
SPROUL: I know, but if we ask, can a monophysite be a Christian, I’d ask this question, first of all: Was Martin Luther a monophysite?
GODFREY: Not intentionally.
SPROUL: Did he have elements of the monophysite heresy in his Christology? I think he did.
GODFREY: There were tendencies, yeah.
SPROUL: And I don’t have any doubts of his Christianity. And he lived within that serious era. Historically, however, the Coptic Church is not a very strong church. As I said the other day, it may be this event may be the catalyst for a new awakening in the Coptic Church.
GODFREY: It, you know, we’ve always said that although we regard the Roman Church as a false church, we’ve always believed they are true believers in the Roman Church who trust Christ in their hearts for salvation alone, even if they can’t articulate that very clearly. And I think we should probably make that same kind of judgement of charity.
I have just a little factoid that I find fascinating. It’s not as fascinating as Goliath’s skull and where it ended up. That was really fascinating.
SPROUL JR.: Just speculation.
GODFREY: Just saying — yeah. When the Muslims conquered Egypt about AD 642. Is that right?
SPROUL JR.: Roughly.
LARSON: Ask the other history —
GODFREY: Yeah. At about AD 642 there were about eight million Christians in Egypt then, because that was the population of Egypt. And the majority of Egyptians remained Christian down till about AD 1000. But you know how many Christian — Coptic Christians, are in Egypt today? Eight million.
SPROUL: Eight million?
GODFREY: Eight million. The total population of Egypt is 80 million. My mind is full of junk. All the — anyway, there are about 80 million people in Egypt. Ten percent are Coptic Christians. That means that although Islam has ruled Egypt for 1400 years, there are still as many confessing Christians in Egypt as there were when Islam conquered it.
And, I think that’s a testimony to Christ preserving his church in remarkable, unexpected — and largely by us — unknown ways. So, be encouraged. Even if they’re coming, they can’t get us.
SPROUL JR.: I would want to give this caution. I understand and I share in the impulse to identify with these victims. And, I think it would be a delightful and joyful thing if we should be reunited in heaven, and it may very well be based on the answers — I think, that are very sound answers we’ve already had.
But I want to be very careful that we don’t allow that particular impulse to shape how we understand what a Christian is.
If that had been 21 Mormons, it would’ve meant the exact same thing to the Muslims that killed them. But I wouldn’t want to be put in a position of having to say, well, because they were victims of this great atrocity — and, by the way, Mormons also have it in them, as bearers of God’s image, to die heroic deaths for their faith.
So, I would want to be — not be pushed in that position.
Certainly I’m not suggesting that the nuances of the monophysite heresy are as clear and obvious and immediate as the errors of Mormonism, but the principle is the same, that we don’t go get emotionally moved by true tragedy and then tinker with our convictions about what is sound in response.
LARSON: “With all of the advancements in medical care in helping to keep people alive, what is the Christian’s responsibility in accepting these medical advances?” Question mark. Another question: “Can a Christian say no to medical treatment with side effects or do we have the responsibility to seek any and all treatment available?”
SPROUL: Well, this is a question that comes up all the time in the field of Christian ethics. One of the problems we have dealing with all of these modern, heretofore unthinkable advances in technological medicine and the rest, is that all the rest of the ethical questions that the Christian has to struggle with have been reflected upon by the best Christian minds for 2,000 years. And all of a sudden we have a whole crisis list of ethical questions surrounding modern medical advancements.
And in one sense, the church really hasn’t had time to reflect long enough and deep enough about all of the ramifications involved in medical ethics of the day. The ultimate question, however, is: Am I obligated to make — take advantage of every medical advance?
I have a friend right now who is in stage four lung cancer. And he was meeting the oncologist this week, who, they were coming up with a protocol to treat him. And he talked to me and he said,”You know, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to ask the doctor, will this protocol that you’re suggesting give me another six months or, practically speaking, another four years?”
He says, “If it’s another four years, I’m very happy to go through the protocol. If it’s another four to six months, I’ll just as soon pass, and I’ll let you allow me to die with dignity.”
That was exactly Jim Boyce’s position, you know, from diagnosis to death was six weeks. And Jim didn’t go through all of those extraordinary means. He was — if you’ve just seen that video of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, that was basically Lloyd Jones’ position at the end. He said, “Hey, you know, let me go. I’m ready to go home.”
And, I don’t want to have this sense that I’m obligated to go through all of these extraordinary means to preserve my life, because there is a — I think a Christian has a right to die with dignity, and can make that option without violating any Christian principle.
LARSON: “How do I faithfully keep the fifth commandment when I have two mothers instead of a father and a mother? Thank you.”
SPROUL JR.: I don’t think the church has had thousands of years to wrestle with that one either. That is, in one sense, a deep challenge. And I think this goes to the answer to the challenge of that you described just a moment ago. That is, it is true we haven’t had these kinds of specific issues, but the answers are going to be found in applying broad principles that transcend the particular issues.
And so, the same would be here. We may have not had situations of where someone has parents — two female parents, but we certainly have had children trying to honor their parents who are engaged in grievous sexual misconduct. And I think the situation there is — it’s almost fairly simple. It’s not easy, but it is fairly simple. That our obligation is to honor the office as much as we’re able to without affirming and condoning the sin.
And so, I don’t think you have an obligation to, you know, embrace an unbiblical sexual ethic in order to be loving and responsive to your — these women. But you do need to be careful not to take that as an occasion to say, ‘Now you have — I have no reason to have any obligation to show you honor in any way.’
Lots of us even have parents — whether it’s outside of sexual sin — we have parents who were rebels against a living God. And the living God tells us to honor those parents. And so, you begin to do so in a way that doesn’t say to them or to anyone, I’m on your side against God. You stay faithful and loyal to God. Now, that’s not specific and practical, but I think those are overarching principles that should guide specific applications.
DEYOUNG: And I would just add that there is a piece that went around in the last two weeks. Maybe some of you read it also. It was on public discourse. It was, I think, entitled: ‘An Open Letter to Justice Kennedy.’ Of course, most people figure it will be the swing-vote when the Supreme Court hears the case in the coming months.
And it was a very poignant letter written by a now grown woman who was raised by two women. And she was stating very unequivocally how she is thankful for her mom and even for the other woman in the relationship, and felt like they raised her, in many ways, very decently.
But, this open letter was very candid and forthright in saying that what many people in her circumstance have been afraid to say (but now she’s saying), is that we missed out on having a mother and a father. And have suffered because of that. And so, it was an open letter to Justice Kennedy to consider the children of two lesbian or two gay parents.
And even though we use the language of, you know, two moms or two dads, it’s really, we all have a mother and a father, whether, you know, as you pointed out, our — you know, we may be raised in any number of different permutations, which are becoming frequently common.
But I can just commend that to you. I’m sure you can, you know, Google it, and find it. But I thought it modeled well, the sort of, I want to honor and respect my family of growing up and origin, and at the same time, I cannot say that this is best for children or in line with the will of God.
LARSON: “Is it a sin to change your sex with surgery and/or drugs?”
SPROUL JR.: I’ll start first because I have a very short answer to that one. It’s not a sin because it’s not possible. You can have surgery and you can take drugs, but it won’t change what you are.
DEYOUNG: So would it be wrong to try to do that, whatever it’s called?
SPROUL JR.: Oh, yes, absolutely. You’re mutilating your body. That’s horrible.
SPROUL: It might also hurt your long-term contract with Wheaties.
NICHOLS: You know, I think as we think about this question, we’re looking at the foundations that God built this universe upon, the idea that he created male and female. And the fact that we’re having these sort of gender discussions, and the fact that gender identity and sexual identity is in such a free-for-all, I think in many ways speaks to this conflict that has been going on from the beginning of saying, “Has God said?” And this is a direct challenge to the very created order.
LARSON: “Women who profess to be Christians but proceed with an abortion on the promise of forgiveness — is this woman saved?”
GODFREY: This is a tougher than usual group.
LARSON: I calls ‘em as I see ‘em.
GODFREY: Well, it is profoundly wrong for a Christian to presume on the mercy of God and to intentionally sin, whatever the sin is, on the assumption that having once sinned and done what one wanted to do, one could then be forgiven. That’s profoundly wrong.
I don’t think one can say definitively such a person is not a Christian for having made that sinful choice, but I think there has to be a very careful examination of the conscience to see if there is real faith in Christ or just presumption in Christ. But there is a forgiveness for every sin, for those who truly repent, and turn to Christ in hope.
SPROUL: But that presumption of forgiveness in advance, that’s such a ghastly thing. I agree with what R.C. and John said in their special seminar on abortion and everything. I think that a Christian’s capable of committing any kind of sin short of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And so I think a person could be a Christian and come to there, as they do do it at the clinic, and say, ‘Oh, I am a Christian and I know that Christ will forgive me.’ Where they’re assuming and presuming upon Christ that as — should we continue in sin that grace may abound?
And I think it’s possible, Bob. I agree that it’s possible for that person to be a Christian. But I think it is highly unlikely. That is such a hostile position against Christ and against God, that if it is a Christian who has fallen dramatically, they’re at the nadir of the fall when they do something like that. And so, it’s unlikely. It’s possible, but strongly unlikely that that person is a true, converted person.
One of the problems we have in the church today is that people really confuse the difference between the profession of faith and the possession of it. There’re all kinds of people who think they’re Christians because they made a profession of faith sometime, who have never been regenerated, who have never repented of their sins, who have never come to the cross, and who have no fruit to show of their genuine conversion if they had one.
DEYOUNG: And I would just say, it not only confuses the nature of grace and presumes upon grace, it also shows a confused idea of what repentance is. I mean, the Puritans said repentance is the vomit of the soul, which is a pretty graphic picture, that this is something that does not come easily, and it comes with much pain and difficulty. Puritans also say that to truly repent is as much a grace as having not sinned in the first place. But that — for that to be true has to be such an elevated view of what repentance is.
So, to go into a situation — and let’s bring it down to the level where almost everyone in this room and on this stage is at, I mean, whether it’s an abortion, that seems like a pretty clear category, but there’re all manner of things we do that we may do going back to a hotel room and what we’re going to click on or how we’re going to talk to our spouse or how we’re going to talk to our kids, that we come up to it and we see that fruit and it looks pleasing to the eye and we think, “Eh, you know what, I’ll just go ahead and sin anyways and I’ll be sorry later.”
Well, we may be sorry later, but to really have repentance is not something that you can just plan for, that later in life I’ll really get down to business with God and I’ll start to be sorry for things. Because if you are truly repentant for the abortion, for the whatever sin you’ve done, looking back, you will feel as if, “If only I could go back to that moment and not have committed that sin.”
There will be no sort of flippancy, kind of cheap grace, glad I could sin, glad I could get forgiven, what a great arrangement God and I have. There will be such a profound sense of not only regret, but shame, and knowing God’s forgiveness, but for having done that sin in the first place, that to presume upon grace is wrong, and to presume that the nature of repentance is that simple and that painless is also wrong.
NICHOLS: Kevin, I’m glad you opened that up — I’m glad you opened that up, in terms of other scenarios. Because I think we’re also talking here about God. And it just seems that God rests so casually on the American church, that for us to presume in our actions and upon His grace, really does flow from this inability. You know, it’s the Old Testament God who’s the God of judgement and the New Testament God, it’s the God of love, has seeped into evangelical thinking. And, it’s our God as a consuming fire as a New Testament text.
SPROUL: Another thing I’d like to add. And I agree 100 percent with what you said there, about it’s not just with respect to abortion, but we do it with a host of other sins. But, another thing that’s in our culture, deeply embedded, is the idea that all sin is equally heinous. Where the New Testament makes it clear that that’s not the case.
There are peccadilloes. There are those sins, multitude of sins, that love covers them, and so on, that don’t require all the stages of ecclesiastical discipline, going all the way up to excommunication. But, in biblical terms, murder is a gross and heinous sin.
Reformed people don’t distinguish between mortal and venial. Calvin said that all sin is mortal in the sense it deserves death, but no sin is mortal enough to take away our salvation. But that distinction, historically and classically, that Rome has between mortal and venial, has this much truth implanted in it: that there are sins that are much, much more gross and heinous than others.
One of the things about the biblical teaching about homosexual practice that we read about in Romans 1 and Romans 2 is that when Paul goes through the depravity of the human heart, when he gets to the basement, to the most gross of sins, is where he starts talking about that man in his fallenness is so bad that even will resort to unnatural passions of a woman with a woman and a man with a man. And so, he doesn’t just see homosexual practice, for example, as one of many sins, but sees it as a gross and heinous sin.
I heard somebody once describe abortion on demand as a monstrous evil. And that has rung in my memory bank ever since, because it’s not just an evil. It’s an evil we’re inured to, we’re accustomed to. We’re outraged by the execution of 15 Coptic Christians, and we’ve killed 60 million of our own children. I mean, we think that Islam has no sense of the sanctity of life, and that ISIS has no sense of the sanctity of life, but so far, they haven’t killed 60 million babies. So what’s that say about us in this country?
SPROUL JR.: It’s a little bit up field or further down the rabbit trail, but I think it’s important to say this, that one of the ways in which that common Evangelical error that all sins are equal plays out in the public sphere is specifically on the homosexual sin, where we’re told to be ashamed for speaking out against it, because we’re all sinners as well and we have adultery, and we have illegitimate divorces in our midst and all that, and so why are we pointing this?
And part of the beef is, it’s easy for us to point at other people’s sins. And I think that’s a good application. We need to recognize one of the reasons why we hate this sin is because a lot of us aren’t tempted toward it, but that’s not the only reason.
And I think another important distinction, in addition to the basement analogy, is that in our in particular culture — we’re not going out and hunting down closeted homosexuals and screaming at them to stop. We’re responding to the insistence that we accept this. That one of the differences between homosexual sin and adultery or greed or an unjust anger is that there are no parades for greedy people.
There’s no special flag that we wave because we’re in favor of being angry. But it’s that particular sin that is most insistent not only on having the liberty to practice this, but insisting that the rest of us approve.
LARSON: “What do we say to a mother who has lost a child in infancy, when she asks, ‘Is my child in Heaven?’”
GODFREY: The Canons of Dort —
DEYOUNG: Head 1, Article 17.
GODFREY: Yes, Chapter 1, First Head of Doctrine, Article 17 say that godly parents may believe without doubt that their children dying in infancy are elect and saved. And I think that’s true.
DEYOUNG: And here’s a verse — because I think that’s true, too. You don’t need a verse after the Canons of Dort. I know that’s what you were going to say.
GODFREY: You do need verses.
SPROUL: What do you mean we don’t need the Canons of Dort?
GODFREY: To show —
SPROUL: Did I just hear a Dutchman say that we don’t need the Canons —
DEYOUNG: No, I said we don’t need verses after it.
SPROUL: Oh, OK.
DEYOUNG: That was — no, that was exactly what I was going to say. And everyone up here who’s, you know, we’ve all faced that question and pastors can’t avoid that question. And, it’s not something that the Bible deals with as head on as we might like, but I’ve always found that 2 Samuel is probably the best case, where David’s child is killed because of the sin with Bathsheba and he prays and then he, then, changes his mood, because the Lord tells him that he will go to be with his child.
And there’s some discrepancy among Hebrew scholars, you know, did Jews in the Old Testament have an understanding of the afterlife? And I think it’s clear from Daniel 12 and elsewhere that they certainly did. So, if we can clear that away and understand that David had an understanding of the afterlife. It goes on immediately after that to say, “And he comforted his Bathsheba.”
And so the juxtaposition of those two things suggests to me that he’s comforting his wife Bathsheba with the understanding that his child who has died in infancy, he will see again. He will go to him, he says clearly. And go to him, not just, I will too go to Sheol, and go to the grave, but that there’s some comfort to be experienced in that, that there will be some sort of reuniting.
So, at the very least, I would certainly agree with the Canons of Dort that children of at least one covenant parent should be assured of their election and being in heaven. Beyond that, in my opinion, gets more speculative.
LARSON: Moving right along. “My teenage daughter stated how boring heaven must be if all we are doing there is worshiping God. It was a thought and statement that took my breath away. What do you believe heaven will be like and please expand on this thought.” Dr. Sproul?
SPROUL: Ditto. What’s wrong with you? Well, I think if all we had to do for eternity is to worship God and it’s the God of the Bible, I don’t think there will be a second of boredom for our souls in that time.
I’ve talked about that. I’ve said, you look at the gamut of feelings that humans have to encounters with God in the Bible. Some people are driven to their knees. Some repent in sackcloth and ashes. Some people just weep endlessly. Some people are paralyzed, or you see Belshazzar with his knees knocking.
You see all these different human emotional responses to people encountering God. And I’ve never seen anywhere in the Bible where when God appears somebody’s bored. That’s just not a natural human response to encountering God.
But people may be bored in worship services here and then project that infinitely and eternally, and say, “Am I going to have to be bored forever as much as I am listening to this preacher on Sunday morning?” That’s another matter. It’s not God that’s boring them; it’s the preacher.
GODFREY: But don’t you think the way we should try to communicate that to our children is to say, yeah, heaven is not like church. I mean, there may be some correspondences, hopefully, but, again, depending on the age of children, think of the most interesting conversations you’ve ever had in life. Were those boring? And being with God in heaven and with his people will be like those most interesting conversations ever.
If God is infinite, he’s also infinitely interesting. And there will be no end to the exploration of the divine mind and presence, that will be endlessly fascinating. But maybe trying to compare it with interesting conversations outside of church might be a point of contact.
SPROUL: And the other side is that if they wake up in hell, they’d be happy to be bored in heaven.
GODFREY: Nice one, yeah.
SPROUL JR.: Before you go on, Chris, maybe a little bit more of a practical help in that circumstance. Tonight, in this room, we’re going to have the opportunity to hear a musical speculation on what heaven will be like. And I’ve had the opportunity to hear this particular musical speculation about what heaven will be like, and have the experience not of a conversation, not of a boring preacher, but an experience of what I guess heaven will be like.
The first time I heard it, I wrote a little piece about hearing this song. It’s called the ‘Highland Hymn.’ And I imagined waking up on this Scottish heath, and everywhere I looked on the ground were thistles in full bloom, these glorious purple crowns.
And as I was looking at these crowns, I heard to my left, my wife say to me, “Hun” — it’s what she called me. And she comes and puts her head on my shoulder, and then I feel my daughter’s hand take my right hand and hear her say, for the first time, “Daddy.” And then I imagine the two of them leading me to my Lord, and I imagine hearing Him say, “Welcome, thou good and faithful servant.” And that’s all just the first hint of the tiniest shadow. And in the midst of that little shadow, I can assure you I’ve never been bored.
LARSON: “We are told to obey our government. Was it sinful for Tyndale to translate and print the Bible? If so, what should he have done?”
SPROUL: We are required — the principle’s simple, very simple — always to obey those in authority over us, in this case the civil magistrates, unless they command us to do something God forbids, or forbids us from doing something God commands. The principle’s simple. The application of it in concrete, historical circumstances is often excruciatingly difficult to discern. You better have a good and sound reason before you disobey somebody in authority over you. You can’t disobey just because you disagree with them or that they are afflicting you or inconveniencing you.
But I see with Tyndale, the same thing with Luther at Worms translating the Bible into German, that the apostles faced when they were ordered by the authorities not to preach Jesus. And then the question Peter asked was very simple. Do we obey God or man? And when men say you’re not allowed to preach the gospel or you’re not allowed to print the gospel, not only may you disobey the magistrate, you must disobey the magistrate. So, I don’t think, he has to spend five minutes worrying about civil disobedience.
LARSON: “If the Devil is not omnipresent, how much of our sin is a result of our sinful nature, as opposed to temptations of the Devil?”
NICHOLS: The Devil made me do it. I think we need to recognize that we have three enemies, right? So, we have the Devil, we have our sinful flesh, and we have this worldly system, as we’re taught in Scripture. And I think it’s very easy for us to go one of two directions in the wrong way. One is to over-emphasize Satan to the negligence of our own sinful self.
And so, it’s rather convenient to say, “That Devil, again.” But then the other pole is to ignore and to downplay Satan and to miss that. And, as we read the New Testament, we find the New Testament author’s very helpful here to help us navigate between those two poles, and put this into a proper perspective.
LARSON: “Since Jesus received our punishment — the wrath of God for our sins — why do Christians still receive punishment for sins they commit? For example, why would a Christian become sick or die for not judging themselves rightly, before communion — 1 Corinthians 11 — when Jesus paid the price on the cross?”
SPROUL: Historically, moral theology is distinguished between temporal punishment and eternal punishment. Even though Jesus has born the eternal punishment for our sins, due to us, there still may be consequences for which we have to pay in this world.
If you want to see a clear demonstration of that, think back over the last 50 years of movies, Hollywood movies, where they will take you inside a prison where a prisoner is about to be executed. And as he walks the last mile, there is a pastor or a priest reciting the Lord’s Prayer, or doing the last rights or something.
And it seems to dramatize this apparent tension between having been forgiven and yet having to pay the penalty. That person going to be executed could be reconciled with God and still responsible to be executed in this world, and yet have no future punishment in eternity.
In addition to that, even though our sins are covered in the cross, for this world and the next, when we get to the judgement seat, we will still be evaluated. And we will be evaluated according to our works. We’re not justified by our works. We’re justified by faith in Christ’ works, OK?
But, nevertheless, as Augustine said, the rewards in heaven will be distributed according to our works. Not because those works have produced a merit that puts God under an obligation morally to reward them, but it’s a gracious reward distributed according to our works. And what Augustine said, it’s like God crowning his own gifts. And so, we escape condemnation but we don’t escape judgement, in the sense of an evaluation of our performance in this world.
We will be held accountable on the last day for our degree of obedience and/or disobedience.
DEYOUNG: That’s a great answer. And the question — and that answer leads to a very important distinction, which, the failure to get this distinction is part of what’s behind all the confusion regarding sanctification that we see in our day, and sadly, in parts of the Reformed world. And that’s to understand that we relate to God not only as a judge, but as a Father.
And so, if we only — relating to God as judge and we think, I’m either innocent or I’m guilty so why would there be any sort of disciplinary action, right? The payment has already been paid and I’ve already been declared righteous in Christ. And so, that’s on a forensic level.
But on a relational level with God as our heavenly father, Hebrews 12, he disciplines those he loves. When you discipline a child, it doesn’t mean that you don’t love them. And if you never disciplined your children, you would not be loving to them, nor to their other children.
And we brought our six kids with us here. And so, pray for us, pray for my wife today, as she’s there in the hotel. I thought it was supposed to be warm here, but they’re from Michigan so they’ll go in the pool and nobody else will. But, I hope that to discipline children is not a sin for a father. It certainly can’t — Calvin, actually, has this language where he says, “God can yet be wondrously angry with his children.” And, as a father, I take a lot of comfort in that little line. Wondrously angry.
I think I’m, you know, as a sinner, more on the anger than the wondrous part of it, but that’s why in, you know, in Corinth, to discipline the church there — perhaps some of those weren’t really believers eating in an unworthy manner, but at the very least it’s to demonstrate to the whole body how seriously they are to take this sacrament. And that’s part of God’s fatherly love and care and discipline.
And if we think that God no longer can be angry in any way, the Spirit can no longer be grieved because now we’re justified Christians, we are going to have a flattened with our Heavenly Father, which either leads to license or to great despair, because we don’t know that God can be still displeased with our sin and that he can still be very pleased by our obedience, as it reflects God’s own grace in our lives.
SPROUL JR.: Another way to frame, I think, what’s already been said is to distinguish between what we could retributive justice and rehabilitative justice. Retributive justice is that justice which is designed to even the scales of justice. It’s not about the people involved. It’s about the principle, the over-arching principle, and justice in that sense.
And in that sense, the work of Christ has evened the scales retributively. We stand not guilty before God. But, rehabilitative justice, like a father with his children, is designed to teach. And I like what Kevin said, also, that it can be corporate. That is, when I’m spanking child number four, child number five sees it too. It helps them grow in grace and wisdom.
DEYOUNG: Make it sort of the entertainment for the night.
SPROUL JR.: You’re stuck inside a hotel room, it’s too cold outside, what else are you going to do?
DEYOUNG: Plenty to go around, you know.
LARSON: This person writes: “Sadly I do not have a great love for my fellow man. I do not have a great fear for the lost. I tell myself that I love God and want to serve and please him. Am I fooling myself on my salvation?”
SPROUL JR.: I often, sort of tease the Philippian jailer for his indifference to his own children. He thinks everybody’ss escaped, and his response is to make his wife a widow and his children fatherless. And when the disciples say, ‘Hey, we’re still here. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. We’re still here.’ He comes in and says, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ But their answer is, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you and your household.’ They’re thinking corporately. They’re thinking about the family. He’s still thinking about himself.
And that particular question, in some ways, suffers from the same problem. If your response to “I don’t care about other people” is, what does this say about me? You’re still not caring about other people. You need to — we need to cultivate an understanding that people do matter and people are real and people do die.
As I mentioned during the optional seminar, one of the blessings of going to your local abortion mill is you see wickedness live and in person. And all of a sudden you realize not just here’s something to be mad about, but you realize the desperateness of the human condition that we miss in our nice, clean, scrubbed, suburban lives. And when you see that, you begin to develop some compassion for the lostness of the lost, which then gives you a deeper sense of the depth and the value of your own rescue and your own neediness which becomes a healthy cycle.
You become more conscious of your need, which makes you more conscious of other’s needs, which makes you more conscious of your need.
And that process may be the means by which God gives life to the person who asked the question or it may be the means by which God sanctifies the person who’s asking this question. We don’t want to answer every assurance question with, “Be assured.” Sometimes the answer is, “Good for you for not being assured.”
And, the Bible tells us, in John’s epistles especially, one of the marks of belonging to Christ is a love for the brethren. And if you’ve got none of that, that’s a problem. It’s a good thing to ask the question. But, again, the way that we cultivate this, I would argue, is entering more fully into the knowledge of our own sin, which puts us more into the knowledge of God’s grace for us, and more compassion for others.
NICHOLS: Dr. Lawson mentioned yesterday that the first book for the Old Testament that Tyndale translated was Jonah, because he felt like the homeland of his day needed that book desperately. And I think the reality is probably all of us need the message of Jonah desperately to be reminded of our role here, that we are here for not ourselves, but that we are ultimately here for the service of others and the glory of God. And that it is our task to be compassionate, as our dear Savior was as he looked upon the lost.
GODFREY: It also strikes me as I’ve heard some of these questions and they’ve all gotten very good answers, it seems to me, but some of them are very intimate, pastoral questions that really need to be followed up on. We don’t know where exactly the question’s coming from.
We don’t know whether we’ve really hit what the person is after, and so, let me encourage you with some of these questions to find a wise and faithful pastor where you live so that you can follow up on this, and pursue these questions. Some of them can’t just be answered with one question and one answer. There has to be follow up, and investigation, and reflection.
DEYOUNG: And that’s so wise and important because, I think, in talking to a pastor or just another mature Christian, like, a question like that, you can get a sense, very quickly, often. You know, is this person coming and saying, “Look, I can’t stand people. Am I Christian?” Well, which people can’t you stand?
This had a plaintive cry to my ear, you know, a sort of — maybe a tender conscience, saying, you know, do I pray enough? Do I do enough? I don’t know. I’m not the greatest Evangelist.
And, 1 John is absolutely right. If we don’t love the brothers, we don’t have the love of the Father in us. And what’s key is he goes immediately to a very tangible test. You who have the worlds good and you see your brother in need, if you don’t do anything to help then you’re like Cain, and you hate your brother.
So, in our day where feeling the right is thing considered so much more important than actually doing the right thing, and it’s this call to perpetual outrage and sentimentality, I would want to help this brother or sister to really look at their lives, because there could be some very wonderfully ordinary Christians who see some of the examples, or see some of the great expressions of compassion and feel like they don’t measure up.
And you want to say, “But, look it, you gave to the fund last month, what small bit you could. And you volunteered to help with this family. And if that family in your church had a fire you’d be over there with a meal.” And try to show them the tangible ways in which love for brother and sister really plays out.
LARSON: “I am in leadership at a very traditional Baptist church. My pastor knows of my Reformed leanings. How can I best serve my church while pushing and praying for reformation?”
NICHOLS: When your pastor goes on vacation, you can show Ligonier videos.
SPROUL JR.: I would just add: stop leaning and go ahead and fall over.
GODFREY: You should remember that really traditional Baptist churches were Calvinistic churches.
DEYOUNG: Maybe this is a little different perspective, but I think I do agree with all of that as well. I wouldn’t want a very passionate Arminian, OK? We can know, in God’s grace, that they’re not right, but let’s just suppose. I would not want a very passionate Arminian — or pick another issue, to start a grassroots movement in my church. I don’t think that would be honoring to the Lord.
That doesn’t mean that the pastor (the dominee) is on such a pedestal that he can’t be approached, that he can’t say, “Here’s my understanding of Scripture.” The priesthood of all believers would certainly encourage that.
But, I think sometimes, young men — and it’s usually young men with more zeal than knowledge — run headlong into this and don’t have the patience, and sometimes don’t have — this may sound wrong. Maybe you guys disagree. But I think sometimes the answer may be to find another church.
I mean, you can show some of the research. You can say, “I just went to this conference. It was very meaningful to me. Here’s what I’m learning. Here’s what I’m thinking.” But, if — this is what I come back to — if David would say, I cannot lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed — OK, not exactly the same, it’s the king, but he felt stricken in his conscience to cut off a hem of the garment from Saul.
I just would want brothers and sisters, even whom I would agree with theologically, in churches that need to be Reformed in all the ways I would want them to be Reformed, to just tread cautiously, carefully, patiently, showing the utmost deference and respect to that person that the Lord has put in authority over them. And not blow it up and feel like you’re a champion for the cause for doing so.
SPROUL: I agree with that, you know. I don’t think I would be ethically right to join a Roman Catholic church and try to change it from within. There would be something dishonest, inherently, about my doing that sort of thing.
But, you have to understand it in the contemporary southern Baptist church. There’s been this enormous resurgence of Calvinism, for which I’m very grateful. But, it has also provoked a strong negative reaction. And that negative reaction is now showing itself with a strong resurgence of militant Arminianism.
You got the elements of a war here, because the difference between Arminianism and Reformed theology is not minor nuances of doctrine. These two systemic views of the Word of God are inherently incompatible. In the eighteenth century Edwards thought that the two greatest threats to the Christian faith were Unitarianism and Arminianism.
They didn’t just see Arminianism as a minor weakness in the heart of a broad Evangelical, but rather a system of doctrine that was a clear and present danger to biblical Christianity. And I think that’s becoming more and more the case today.
In other words, this sort of subtle peace that the Evangelical world has enjoyed over the last 50 or so years, among Arminians and Reformed people has now started to change. And I think that change is going to be more dramatic in the near future.
GODFREY: I think — I absolutely agree with you. And I think of William Ames at the Synod of Dort. It’s amazing how often the Synod of Dort just comes up in casual conversation. William Ames was asked, “Is Arminianism a heresy?” And that question really meant: Is Arminianism so wrong that people who believe it can’t be saved? That’s the way the word heresy was being used there. And William Ames said, “No, Arminianism is not a heresy. It’s a serious theological error, tending to heresy.” And that’s how really serious it is.
On the other hand, we have to be careful that sometimes people who attack Calvinism attack it because of the caricature that says Calvinists are opposed to Evangelism, Calvinists are opposed to missions. So, we have to listen carefully as to exactly what the critique of Calvinism is. If it’s attacking genuine Calvinism, then we have to defend Calvinism with might and mane, but sometime what’s being attacked is caricature of Calvinism that we can help people correct.
SPROUL: I don’t think it’s sometimes, Bob, I think it’s most of the time. You know?
LARSON: Well, let’s thank our panelists this afternoon. Thank you, gentlemen.