On the Verge of Groundbreaking Theological Formulation
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.