Misrepresentation

I must admit that I have a failure in my teaching, preaching, blogging and conversation with regards to theological views. I am not always faithful in representing the ‘other side’.

I might stand up and argue that I don’t mean to do so, my heart is noble, I was pretty sure I represented the other side correctly and a whole host of other excuses. But I still fall very short. Most of the time those reasons are true. I don’t sit around maliciously trying to misrepresent the other side, but I still do it. And I’m leaning more and more this isn’t a good thing.

The two sides I misrepresent the most are dispensationalism and cessationism. I have reformed-covenant leanings, so I do disagree with dispensationalism. I have strong continuationist leanings, so I disagree with cessationism. But, more than that, I find myself misrepresenting these two viewpoints on a regular basis.

Now, here is the thing. There used to be a day when a theological system was pretty consistent across the board. Uniformity existed, at least within a particular framework of theology. But in today’s world, you have so many varying views within one systematic framework that it is hard to keep up with what is out there.

You have the full cessationists and consistent cessationists (and probably others), and then you have at least 20 views within each of those camps. You have classical dispensationalism and progressive dispensationalism (and probably others), and then there are at least 20 views within each of those camps as well.

Still, it’s no excuse in misrepresentation.

Now, I will tell you of one decision I made a while back, even in my young life. In a general sense, I have typically tried not to specifically mention the particular system of theology or person I disagree with. One reason is that the average person won’t know the ‘system’ of theology or the person that might be mentioned. But, more than that, I think the better approach is to address Scripture passages, teach what you believe Scripture teaches on the topic in a holistic manner, and then people can make their decision if they agree or not with the teaching.

I don’t do this always, as when I interact with students of theology or other theologically minded people, I will raise particular names and systems of theology that I disagree with. But, as a whole, I think it better to focus on what you see Scripture teaching and work that out. Don’t bash the ‘bad guys’, but encourage with what you believe is correct teaching.
Yet, when it comes to addressing the other side, informing others about what it says, I am not good at faithfully representing.

Again, it’s hard with all the varying views. Just when I thought I understood what dispensationalists believe or the arguments of cessationists, lo and behold, they no longer believe that. Or, even worse, they never believed it in the first place. And that is when you feel like not only is your foot in your mouth, but that you have taken a nice mile-long wander around in your own mouth.

So, this leaves one humble, one turning towards God, one desiring faithfulness, and one learning that you might just need to shut up and not say anything in the end. Or, possibly, making sure you understand things a little better before spouting off what you think you know. Or, being much more careful and considerate with what you say.

I’m growing, I’m being transformed, I’m learning, but it’s a process. I look forward to faithfully representing the other side.

Faithful and Righteous To Forgive

There is a simple verse we all probably know found in John’s first epistle:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

It’s one of the famously quoted passages in regards to the promise of God’s forgiveness of sin. There are others such as Psalm 32:1-2; Isaiah 1:18; Acts 2:38; and Ephesians 1:7. But, still, 1 John 1:9 probably rings louder than any other. And it should. It’s beautiful. Such words are a real promise of the faithfulness of God to forgive our sins.

Now, before moving on, I must be honest and say that I think these words of John more have to do with the ongoing relationship we have with God. The gospel says that, in Christ, our sin has already been forgiven, completely forgiven. The forgiveness of God is part of the sealed covenant of God. Thus, when Christ said, ‘It is finished,’ He really meant what He said.

The debt is paid, the wrath of God has been averted, and this actual transaction already took place at the cross. Therefore, Paul could declare this truth:

For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Again, this is something that already has happened. We are not hoping this will happen. It is truth, and it is truth that sets the captives free! (See John 8:32)

For this reason, the promise of 1 John 1:9 is more in reference to the continual relationship that exists between God and His people. Sure, our sins are already forgiven and, thus, if there were some sin we ‘forgot to confess’, we can have confidence that such has been covered in the blood of Christ. His blood is sufficient and is not based upon whether or not we remember to confess a particular sin. The power of the cross is not ultimately contingent upon fallen humanity. It is contingent upon the faithfulness of the eternal, divine Son who gave His life for our sin.

But, because we are in this new covenant love relationship with the Father, we truly want to consider how we can walk out this relationship. To do so, when we offend our Father, we are called to confess such. To make a confession is simply to be in agreement that what we have said, done or thoughts is not in accordance with the ways of God.

And, thankfully, such is not dependent upon verbally confessing to a priest or vicar, though we should be encouraged that the body of Christ is called to be available to one another to share (confess) our struggles and sins to one another so that we might pray for one another in regards to such (i.e. James 5:16, even Acts 19:17-20).

But this confession we are looking at here is in regards to maintaining a healthy relationship with our loving Father. Again, our sins are completely paid for, but when we offend our Father, we want to let Him know that we understand that what we participated in was not in accordance with His ways.

I suppose it’s similar to the marriage relationship. My wife and I are in covenant and I am assured that covenant will not ever be brought to an end. And our marriage is built upon that covenant foundation. Still, when I offend my wife or she offends me, we are [usually] quick to apologise, confess and ask the other to forgive us.

And that is what John is getting at in 1 John 1:9. The covenant relationship has been established, but we want to look to walk out that relationship each and every day. But let me quote the verse one more time to bring up the major point of this blog article:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

According to this passage, there are two aspects of God’s forgiveness: If we confess our sins, he is both faithful and just (which means righteous) to forgive our sins.

Now most recognise the faithfulness of God in that, when we confess our sins, He is always willing and ready to forgive His people. If we truly confess, the eternal sacrifice of the cross becomes a living and applicable reality right then and there. Yet, most fail to recognise the second reality of John’s words: the righteousness of God to forgive.

Now many people will struggle with my next statement, but do know this is 100% absolute truth in accordance with 1 John 1:9 and the gospel: If God did not forgive the sins of His people, He would be absolutely unrighteous.

Yep, you heard me right. And I have no problem making such a statement. Such is not arrogant, but rather it is based upon the truth of His Word. But why could I make such a statement? If God did not forgive the sins of His people, He would be absolutely unrighteous. Let me break it down.

Either Christ paid for our sin or He didn’t. Either Christ received the judgment for our sin or we will. But both Christ and God’s people cannot pay for our sin. It is one or the other.

If God were to hold our sin against both Christ and us, then it would be what is known as double payment, a kind of legal term. But such is unjust, unrighteous. Again, either Christ paid the debt for our sin or will. It cannot be both.

Some might say, ‘Well, God is God. He can do what He wants.’ But such shows our western, maybe American, idea of God. God is a covenant God and God will never ever break covenant! The new covenant was established on the eternal blood of Christ and it is that eternal blood that was the eternal sacrifice for our sin.

Therefore, for those who are in Christ, who have believed upon Him and have become new creations, He was the One who took our sin. God will never hold our sin against us. Never! Thus, He is both faithful and righteous to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Now for those who think such gives license for sin, they show they don’t truly understand the gospel and the work of Christ. For those who are in Christ, we are new creations with new hearts indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. Therefore, we are the ones who have been changed inwardly and are now in a place where we want to walk out the ways of God. It’s not that we don’t deal with flesh, temptations, the lies of the enemy and a fallen world. Such are present every single day. But God has so changed us that we are in a place of wanting to walk out His ways. A new creation is expected to walk in the new ways of God. A branch is expected to act in accordance with the vine.

So we should see that such truth of 1 John 1:9 does not give license to sin, but it actually empowers us to walk out the ways of God. Such truth helps to transform us more and more into the image of Christ. It truly is such good news (gospel) that He is both faithful and righteous to forgive us. And now, knowing such empowering truth, I find myself wanting to walk out His ways.

Therefore, let us be strengthened by 1 John 1:9 knowing that God will never hold our sins against us. If He did, He would be unrighteous.