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Monday, September 28, 2015

The Forgiveness of Sins Part 3, By Antonio da Rosa

The following is a brief treatise concerning the logical consistency of the Forgiveness of Sins as held by a major consensus of Evangelical Christianity. It has been crafted to get your mind thinking about this subject. As you read, allow these questions to settle in your consideration: how could one be eternally forgiven of future sins yet have to seek forgiveness for all future sins, lest he remain unforgiven? Why would future sins need to be eternally forgiven if a provision guaranteeing all forgiveness of future sins upon confession was given to each believer in Christ?

Many people in my family have expressed frustration when purchasing a birthday or Christmas gift for me. Beside the consistent suggestion of books, I have had a hard time determining material things or services that I want. One October I got on a scale and found that I was the heaviest that I had ever been in my life. This had quite an impact on me. I needed to get focused on the temporal body that God was using in His service! At Costco, I saw that they had a 2 year membership to 24 Hour Fitness for only $12.50 a month. It was rather expensive, I think like $299, but it was something I could actually find useful besides books, so I suggested it. I knew that there was no budget for such a high priced gift, so I did not even consider it a possibility – I just threw it into the mix. To my surprise, I did receive this gift that very Christmas. I would like to note for my readers that through this membership coupled with Slim Fast shakes for lunch I lost more than 25 pounds (and have kept it off!).
Imagine for a moment that I went in with my gift certificate, was signed up, and given a membership good for 2 complete years from that point on, giving me unlimited access and use of their entire facility (not so hard to imagine since this is the case). Yet what if I was to return for my second visit to find that I must actually pay a fee every time I entered the gym? I think that you would agree that I ought to be rightly perplexed! Rationally, logically, and reasonably, how could I be financially responsible to the gym for each visit if my 2 year membership accorded me unlimited entry and use of the facility by virtue of its contract? Of course this is an absurdity; it is utterly and obviously senseless and illogical, contrary to reason and all common sense. But this is the type of situation that I am asked to believe is the case with God and His forgiveness of sins!
We are told by most evangelicals, often in the context of evangelism, that when one believes in Christ that he is forgiven for all his sins – past, present, and future. Yet, in the context of Christian living, he is told that he must be forgiven by God for all of his future sins, lest he remain unforgiven and out of fellowship with God. May I propose that this, too, is absurd (illogical, and contrary to reason)? How is it that we are responsible to God to be forgiven for every future sin if we have already been forgiven of every future sin? This is like being asked to pay a fee upon each future visit to a gym when in fact each future visit has been paid for by purchasing and successfully applying for a membership. This is literally against all reason.
I recollect the first time that my mind was presented with this apparent affront to logic. It immediately was recognized as such. In light of the dissonance that such tension created, I asked a more mature Christian about how these considerations could be compatible. The answer was such, that in my immature Christian experience, I was able to compartmentalize this information, regarding both to be true, even in the light of a weakly attested harmonization. (The answer was a “positional” vs “experiential” nuance, which we will discuss later). Yet now, in light of my growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, such attempts at harmony do not satisfy my critical thinking processes. I thus am comfortable saying that we are presented with two contradictory notions. Both cannot be true at the same time. Logically speaking, there are only 3 choices: (1) the regenerate are eternally forgiven of their sins, including future sins, and have no need for temporal forgiveness, (2) believers are forgiven of their past sins (at the point of conversion) and have the privilege to have all future sins forgiven through confession (and being forgiving), or (3) neither of these are correct and we must seek some other formulation. Why is this logic air-tight? For the simple reason that it is impossible to be God-forgiven of one sin and God-unforgiven of the exact same sin at the exact same time. What is forgiven is forgiven, and what is not has yet to be forgiven.

In the 1940s a theological controversy came to being within the Reformed tradition. Essentially, one side (Van Til) believed that there were true propositions in the Bible that are contradictory to human logic which can never be harmonized, because God is incomprehensible and man can never know all the same truth as God can for God does not operate in the sphere of logic. The other side (Clark), stated that the truth may only appear that way, and either we must search the Bible for more information that will facilitate harmony, or realize that we will not be able to know the information this side of eternity – but they should both be considered as true, and able to be harmonized, logically understood, when more information is introduced. Examples of such Reformed “truths” that were at the heart of the controversy where “sovereignty and responsibility,” and “the sincere offer of the gospel”.
In such a controversy, I would side with Gordon Clark. But I don’t leave it where he might. If there are two doctrinal pronouncements that contradict each other, my first reaction would be to test each one individually, to see if its articulation, based upon a methodical study of Scripture, must be modified or changed. I would posit that either one or both were in error before deciding that there is not enough information. In the process of systematizing my doctrinal thoughts, I have not found two sets of doctrinal pronouncements that are actually to be held in tension and/or paradox (contradiction), but have found enough information, or have been persuaded to modify or change a position, in order for all held Christian beliefs to be in harmony with one another.
In the issue at hand, God’s forgiveness of sins, I have used these principles in coming to new held beliefs. During the course of my Christian journey, I have heard a large range of teachings and positions. One, in particular, is interesting to note here. Some Mid-Acts Dispensationalists are struck by the apparent contradiction of the necessity to be forgiven of what has already been forgiven, and have come to the opposite conclusion that I have. They teach that since one is forgiven of all their sins, past and future, there is no need to confess one’s sins for forgiveness, and so they consider 1 John 1:9 as an eternal salvation text, conditioning eternal forgiveness of sins on confession. I believe that they have discarded the wrong doctrine, but I note them because they are impressed as I am over the contradictory nature of the current articulations concerning God’s forgiveness of sins.

In the following articles I will be reviewing the pertinent texts concerning God’s forgiveness of sins in the New Testament. I invite you to join with me in this study, to test and challenge your convictions in this area. Even if you do not come to the same conclusions as I do, you can guard against “implicit faith,” having confirmed your beliefs with a precise and methodical study of the Scriptures.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Forgiveness of Sins Part 2, by Antonio da Rosa

Zane Hodges once wrote:
“It may seem strange to say it, but the grace movement must face the danger of not being open to God’s Word.
Most grace people probably feel that openness to God’s Word is a hallmark of the grace movement. After all, we are prepared to let the Scriptures speak even if they clearly contradict long-held traditional interpretations. The doctrine of rewards is one such area where the grace movement seems prepared to let the Scriptures speak.
I agree that this has been a strong point of the grace movement up until now. I hope it will continue to be. But there are some warning flags.”
And continued:
“…the grace movement must bring all of its convictions to the bar of Scripture. And we must be prepared to revise these convictions however God’s Word requires. No movement can remain vital which no longer examines itself in the light of Scripture.
When such examination of our convictions ceases, tradition and dead orthodoxy are not far down the road.”
An Indispensable Method Used to Systematize the Doctrine of the Forgiveness of Sins:
Throughout my years of Bible College and Seminary, I was introduced to many helpful, methodical approaches to studying the Bible. One approach that I have found useful in my own study is the observation, extrapolation, and application method. You start out with a text of Scripture and write down as many observations concerning it as you can, without making any inferences or interpretations of the text. One is to simply make declarative statements concerning the data in the text itself. Next, based on the wealth of information contained in those observations, one would make inferences and extrapolations, but only as far as the text could legitimately allow. This second step is basic interpretation. In class, we were not allowed to make any inference that couldn’t be supported from the text at hand. We did this in order to stay “in bounds” with the text. If there was not enough information within the text itself for a particular pronouncement, we were not allowed to make it.
This type of precaution will be very important in our study of the Forgiveness of Sins, because for years we have been handed down interpretations of these passages and have rarely questioned them. And when they are questioned, we usually run to our traditional understandings rather than making careful observations about them.
Certainly, as all students of the Bible know, all the information concerning a doctrine present in a particular text may not be present in the text being considered. So in order to grow in understanding of the issues, the other texts would need to be studied in the same way, with the observations and extrapolations. The information gleaned from all the relevant texts could be used to make greater extrapolations and interpretations, and thus the issue could be considered using all the relevant biblical data and legitimate conclusions could be made – and at the same time the rules of the study prevent improper use of the text, the inclusion of secondary assumptions not found in the text, and erroneous interpretation (and by extension improper application). This method is a beneficial tool when doing systematic theology.
The Dangers of Imprecise Observation and Interpretation:
This type of exercise is very helpful when studying any biblical doctrine. I used this very same process to come to the conclusions that I did concerning God’s forgiveness of sins in the New Testament. I have found, as in my study of forgiveness of sins, that I and others have been guilty of making inferences that can't legitimately be supported by reasoned observation and extrapolation and then asserting them as biblical fact. Furthermore, I note that I and others have fallen into the error of "implicit faith," by which we have, without the application of focused study or critical thinking, regarded and taught as truth a wide range of tenets springing from various theological traditions, and not from our own personal study.
We must be on guard about this! Too often I find that we go too far in our theological pronouncements, going beyond what may be legitimately extrapolated from the scriptural data. WE MUST COMMIT OURSELVES ANEW TO STAY “IN BOUNDS” WITH CARE AND PRECISION, GOING BACK TO THE RELEVANT TEXTS, DETERMINING TO RECEIVE NOTHING MORE FROM THE TEXT THAN WHAT CAN LEGITIMATELY BE ASCERTAINED FROM IT. This point, in my estimation, cannot be overemphasized! The imprecise handling of the biblical texts can have a snowballing effect, as illegitimate inferences can be used to make more, which then in turn can be used to make greater ones and so on.
Reader, is it possible that you have not been careful enough with the handling of Scripture? To admit so, as I do, can be humbling, indeed. Some authors, I have read, have been very obstinate to confess their shortcomings, because they have been “published” and their pride and reputation are on the line. One of the many things that I have admired about Zane Hodges is that he continued to test his beliefs against a proper consideration of the Scriptures. Zane’s prayerful and methodical approach to the study of Scripture produced clarity, modifications, and even changes in his beliefs, and he was not afraid to announce them. Fidelity to the Scriptures is far more important than any other consideration. I hope that you will judge this true as well, no matter where you eventually will be in relation to this current study of God’s forgiveness of sins in the New Testament.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Forgiveness of Sins Part 1 by Antonio Da Rosa

What is to follow is a treatise concerning the Forgiveness of Sins, which will be posted a little at a time. With this first post I wish to make some general remarks about forgiveness that I intend to fully develop and substantiate in the coming days. Your comments, questions, and objections are welcomed, for I submit this series for your approval.
Opening Statements on the Forgiveness of Sins:
"Forgiveness of Sins" is not an eternal consideration of God; only a temporal one. When one believes in Jesus for eternal life he does not receive an eternal forgiveness of sins. Furthermore, it is incorrect to state that there is a "forensic" or “legal” forgiveness, which is an illegitimate confusing of categories, as we shall see.
The forgiveness of sins is precisely this: The one made alive by Christ is forgiven of all the sins that he has ever committed in the past (2 Peter 1:9) and has the privilege, right, and opportunity to come to the Father, through the name of Jesus Christ, to have any and all future sins forgiven (1 John 1:9).
Forgiveness of sins is a temporal issue. It deals with our harmony and fellowship with God in the here and now. Many distinct and varied blessings to the regenerate flow from the magnanimous death of Christ. Some are eternal in nature, and some are benefits that are specifically designed for us in our pilgrimage here on earth.
People are not careful enough, in my estimation, when reading and studying the word of God, to make critical distinctions in the Bible. Justification does not equal forgiveness of sins does not equal eternal life, etc. They are all distinct, even if they all come in the salvific package. Eternal life is God’s divine life, in which all things necessary to prepare one to live with God forever resides. Justification is a legal declaration from God and the imputation of perfect righteousness, which springs from eternal life. And forgiveness of sins remits all past sins at the time of regeneration, and provides the basis upon which all future sins may be let go.
Forgiveness of Sins is Not Legal in its Purview. It is Personal:
Forgiveness is not a legal issue! Think about it for a second. A judge is not in the business of dispensing forgiveness! He hands down judgments of guilty or not guilty; he acquits or condemns; he makes pronouncements based on the law. A judge does not concern himself with matters of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a PERSONAL issue between two or more parties.
Of course a judge can forgive; he just does not do so in a context of jurisprudence. Let’s say that you stole the judge's car and were in front of him for that charge. He could find you guilty and then come down off the bench, take off his robe, and upon your contrition offer you forgiveness. Forgiveness is a personal issue.
In all the occurrences of the 2 Greek words aphiemi (to forgive) and aphesis (forgiveness) resides not a single passage necessitating the doctrine of eternal forgiveness of sins; but many clearly denoting temporal forgiveness for the benefit of restoring or continuing fellowship with God.
Get your thinking started here. Realize that forgiveness is not judicial, but relational. I mean, comon, shouldn’t this go without saying? This is a reasonable distinction.
Then ask yourself, "Why would God have to forgive a man temporally for what has already been forgiven eternally, if what was given to him at the moment of salvation is eternal forgiveness?" This consideration alone ought to jar you a little!
A Few Reasons Why this Study is Important:
Jesus, when evangelizing, almost used exclusively the term "eternal life". For sure, forgiveness of sins is given when one believes in Jesus for eternal life (see Peter's preaching to Cornelius in Acts 10:43), but it is past sins that are in view (see 2 Peter 1:9); and also in view is the ability to be forgiven of future sins by confessing them to the Father (1 John 1:9).
Irrevocable eternal life is the main concern and priority in the saving message of both Jesus and His apostles. Through the message of life, unending life, resurrection and physical immortality, and eternal participation in the world to come is offered (and by corollary, experience of the eternal life in abundance and ever increasing measure in the life now). In evangelism, we are to prefer the use of eternal life, rather than eternal forgiveness of sins, because there is no clear passage offering an eternal forgiveness of sins by grace through faith. As a matter of fact, our eternal standing with God and our eternal destiny DOES NOT DEPEND A WIT UPON FORGIVENESS, as we shall see in the posts to come.
Like Jesus, presenting eternal life should be the primary focus of our evangelism.
Some Parting Words to this Installment:
Future forgiveness of sins is not granted like an indulgence giving assurance that all future, temporal, personal fellowship with God will be maintained despite what one's future actions and attitudes may be. And an all-encompassing eternal decree of forgiveness is both confusing to thought (eg. a man being God-forgiven and God-unforgiven of the same sin at the same time) and completely unnecessary to eternal felicity (see below).
An objection may be stated that apart from some sense of eternal forgiveness of sins that one could not be assured of heaven upon death. We must realize that forgiveness of sins was designed to be a benefit solely in time. When eternity comes for the believer, eternal life (God's kind of life, necessary if one is to live with God) and justification (God’s imputed righteousness) are operative. These considerations, as we shall see, alone assure heaven. The forgiveness of sins (which is always temporal) does not.