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.
CORNELIUS VAN TIL AND GORDON CLARK:
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.