Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On the Verge of Groundbreaking Theological Formulation

I have been studying the Bible alot lately. I have been doing word studies on repentance and forgiveness of sins in the New Testament. It has been very mind-blowing to say the least. I have been developing some thoughts that I want to share with you all in order to get some feedback. The following is a jumble of a mess trying to articulate what I have been coming to grips with, and here submitted for your approval.

In a nutshell, I am becoming convinced that "forgiveness of sins" is not at all an eternal consideration of God, but ONLY a temporal one. I do not believe it is correct to say that when one believes in Jesus that he has an eternal forgiveness of sins (nor is it correct to state that there is a "forensic" forgiveness, which is an illegitimate confusing of categories), but rather is forgiven of all the sins that he has ever committed (in the past) 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).

People are not careful enough, in my estimation, when reading and studying the word of God, to make critical distinctions in the bible. Redemption does not equal justification does not equal forgiveness of sins does not equal eternal life, etc. They are all distinct, even if they come in the salvific package. Justification is a legal declaration from God. It is the verdict of "not guilty" by way of imputation of Christ's righteousness.

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 judgements of guilty or not guilty. Judicially, a judge only deals with that issue. Now personally, the judge can forgive, just not in the context of jurisprudence. Lets 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. I did a word study in the last 3 days on all the occurrences of the 2 Greek words aphiemi (to forgive) and aphesis (forgiveness) and I could not find one that clearly denotes an eternal forgiveness of sins; but many CLEARLY denoting temporal forgiveness for the benefit of restoring or continuing fellowship with God. My thinking was started when I realized that forgiveness is not judicial, but relational. Then came the thought, "Why would God have to forgive us temporally for what has already been forgiven eternally, if what is given to us at the moment of salvation is eternal forgiveness?" This consideration alone jarred me from my previous belief concerning forgiveness of sins!

This may seem like some intellectual exercise to most, but I am concerned about rightly dividing the word of truth. Jesus, when evangelizing, almost used exclusively the term "eternal life". 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) -- the privilege and forgiveness being received apart from converting to Judaism, providing the appropriate sacrifices, and maintaining fidelity to corporate, covenant Israeli ordinances. The sins of the believer, if not confessed when they are brought to his consciousness, will cause an estrangement between God and man that can only be repaired by forgiveness. Eternal life that can never be taken away is the main concern and priority in the gospel of Jesus and His apostles. He offers unending life, resurrection and physical immortality, and eternal participation in the world to come (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. Forgiveness of sins is actually conditioned on two things: 1) not being unforgiving (Mt 6:15) and 2) confessing our sins (1 Jn 1:9), both works. Furthermore, forgiveness of sins does not clearly convey a basic consideration of the "gift of God," received by faith in Jesus, viz., eternality and/or irrevocability -- core, necessary, salvific content (see Jn 4:10, where condition is placed on knowing the gift of God, in order that one may have correct purposeful faith -- we aren't believing in Jesus for provisional life, but eternal life; we aren't believing in Him for a donkey or a Cadillac!).

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 (see above) and completely unnecessary to eternal felicity (see below).

Some may also confuse and or confound forgiveness of sins with justification, which are to be distinguished!

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. My answer to that is that forgiveness is a temporal issue! When eternity comes for the believer, eternal life (God's kind of life, necessary if one is to live with God) and justification (acquittal at God's bar of justice, because of Christ's imputed righteousness) are operative. These considerations assure heaven, the forgiveness of sins (which is always temporal) does not. A believer may die with unforgiven sin, no? Yet he is certainly assured heaven! His unforgiven sin will, in all probability, be a subject at the Judgement Seat of Christ!

This is a work in progress. Your comments and questions are welcomed and entreated, as I would really like feedback in this to either discard this position once and for all (with a persuasive argument against it) or help in pursuing and sharpening this view.


Blogger Matthew Celestis said...

I think you are on to something.

It's certainly a complex subject that requires further study.

Just one point, I don't talk about the imputation of Christ's righteousness. While the believer is made righteous in Christ, the Bible does not state that this is through the personal accrediting of Christ's righteousness to her.

July 01, 2011 1:51 AM  
Blogger Ken White said...

Hey Antonio,

I can see where you're coming from, and I agree that forgiveness often, and maybe even usually, is speaking of a temporal/fellowship issue, but I am not convinced that it always does. There are some verses which seem to tie forgiveness in to the eternal salvation package. Particularly I think of Ephesians 1:7 and the parallel in Colossians 1:14, which both say "in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins..." So in those verses, forgiveness is not tied specifically to eternal life or justification, but it is tied to the redemption that was accomplished by the Lord Jesus, which sounds to me like it is being spoken of as an eternal salvation issue.

The other places which I think argue against forgiveness (or "aphesis," however it is translated in English) being only a temporal issue are Peter's message in Acts 10 and Paul's in Acts 13, which I know you mentioned. But in Acts 10:43, Peter announced that remission of sins was available to all who believed in Jesus, and at that point his listeners received the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that the audience knew they were listening to a message about how to have eternal salvation (since the angel had told Cornelius this would be a message by which he would be "saved"- Acts 11:14), and when they got to that part of the message, they understood "remission of sins" in that context, believed in Jesus for it, and were born again. If forgiveness there was only being spoken of as a temporal issue, it is hard to see how Cornelius and his family could have believed and received the Holy Spirit. I don't see anything else in Peter's message that give them something to believe in Jesus for.

Acts 13 is not as definitive, but it seems to me that in Acts 13:38-39 Paul is presenting forgiveness and justification as parallel ideas, available through faith in Jesus. I realize that he could have been talking about temporal forgiveness (a clean slate) and eternal justification as two different things which were both available by believing in Jesus, but I don't see how Acts 10 could fit in with that.

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts on it, which I thought I'd share, but I'll keep reading your thoughts on it, and anyone else's too. Thanks for posting it.

I know it's hard to keep up with blogging and real life too, but I'm glad you're writing again. A couple of years ago reading through the give and take in your blog really helped me to study through some of the issues you were writing about, so I've really appreciated it. If you ever have any reason to come up through Bakersfield, let me know and we'll get together.


July 02, 2011 8:55 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Perreault said...

Hi Antonio,

I think Ken White brought up some good points. I would like to add a couple more Scriptures to consider as well:

Just before Jesus died on the cross He said: "It is finished" (Greek tetelestai, Jn. 19:30). This Greek word could also be translated: "Paid in full". That is, our sin debt was fully paid when Christ died on the cross (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3).

You might argue that this is somehow distinct from forgiveness, but in Colossians 2:13-14 Paul talks about Christ "having forgiven us all our transgressions,having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."

So I understand the judicial payment of the penalty (Jn. 19:30) and the forgiveness of the debt (Col. 2:13-14) as going together. They are inseparable in my estimation.


July 02, 2011 9:44 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...

@ Matthew:

Thanks for reading the article. This burgeoning understanding of mine has actually been opening doors that have been hitherto obstructing a portion of my view of God's grand vista of grace. The more I study this, the more I am becoming convinced of its truth.

I researched and studied the point that you made concnering the supposed imputation of Christ's righteousness. I have to say that you are right. In having viewed the evidence I have concluded with you that the bible does not speak of a "personal accrediting of Christ's righteousness to" the church.

I found that the righteousness imputed to us is "God's righteousness" and that it is done so being in union with Christ, being "in Him". Certainly such imputation is on account of Christ, but no evidence clearly shows that the righteousness is Christ's personal righteousness. I thank you for keeping me sharp and accurate to the word, Matt! (May I endeavor to do the same with the issue at hand? hehe)

I am finding, as in my study of forgiveness of sins, that I have often been guilty of making inferences that can't be proven and then asserting them as biblical fact (as I did with regard to the supposed imputation of Christ's personal righteousness to the church). Futhermore, I note that I have fallen into the error of "implicit faith," by which I have, without much study or critical thinking, regarded and taught as truth a wide range of tenets springing from various theological traditions, and not from my 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.

Having said this, I ask that you pray for me: 1) To do biblical study, not for my glory, or for intellectual exercise, but for the proper expounding of the truth, to the glory of God, and 2) Pray that I can be diligent to rightly divide the word of truth, with spiritual discernment and understanding, keeping from the errors of my past.

Thanks Matt!

your forever brother,


July 03, 2011 10:27 AM  
Blogger Antonio said...

@ Ken and JP:

Thanks so much for your welcomed and desired comments! I appreciate you guys helping me think through this.

Both of your comments deserve careful attention, more than I want to do in the confines of this comment thread, so I have decided to create a new post addressing your points.

Ken wrote:
I know it's hard to keep up with blogging and real life too, but I'm glad you're writing again. A couple of years ago reading through the give and take in your blog really helped me to study through some of the issues you were writing about, so I've really appreciated it. If you ever have any reason to come up through Bakersfield, let me know and we'll get together.
Thank you very much. It is interesting that there is a circle of learning that happens among the body of Christ, all contributing something, but all due to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. If I have been helpful in any way, I praise God. You are being very helpful to me, to help me study through this issue, and for that I am very appreciative.

I would be very happy to let you know if I ever come by way of Bakersfield, and enjoy your company. Likewise, if you are ever in the San Diego vicinity, we can grab a bite to eat and talk shop.

@ JP -- thanks for your visit! What has been going on with you? What has God been doing in your life these days?

Keep an eye out for my next post!

Thanks again, guys!

your brother in the faith,


July 03, 2011 11:04 AM  

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