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.

Identity in Christ – A New Standing

In the first article of this four-part series on our identity in Christ, I spoke of some foundations in regards to truth setting us free and our union with Christ. If needed, click on the link to recap with this introductory blog.

So, now let’s get into the first characteristic about our new life in Christ. This first aspect to explore is that we have a new standing in Christ, or we could say a new status or position in Christ. Before we came into Christ, our status was condemned, for Paul makes this clear:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men. (Romans 5:18)

Yes, this is bad news, no doubt. But, most times the good news is even sweeter when we first realize the bad news about our life. Even if one finds it hard to accept what Augustine called ‘original sin’, that is sin which was passed on to the whole human race through Adam’s transgression, it matters not much, for when we take one look at our own lives we realize how much we have offended a pure and holy God. Our own personal sin helps us realize we are not even close in measuring up to the righteous standards of a holy God.

But now we get into the good news, the gospel. For those of us who are in Christ, our standing has completely changed. Where we once stood condemned, we now stand justified. Ok, what does that word mean? Well, one theologian stated in this way:

‘Justification may be defined as that gracious and judicial act of God whereby he declares believing sinners righteous on the basis of the righteousness of Christ which is credited to them, forgives all their sins, adopts them as his children, and gives them the right to eternal life.’ (Anthony Hoekema, Saved By Grace)

But, let’s be honest, though it is a good definition (and I would add, by a good theologian), it is rather dry. As a friend on mine said, ‘Theology is meant to breathe life, for it has the word Theos [the Greek word for God] in it.’ Thus, maybe we can take a more life-giving route in understanding the word justified.

Simply stated, to be justified means that we have been declared not guilty and righteous. Most people stop at one side of the coin – declared not guilty. But we must look at the other side of the coin that says we have not only had our sins forgiven and, thus, declared not guilty, but we have also had the righteousness of Christ declared in our lives!

Even more, Scripture makes it clear that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Justification is not something we are working towards, as the Roman Catholic Church has taught. But this is rather a definitive declaration in the lives of the children of God – we are right now declared not guilty and righteous!

As mentioned earlier, most focus on the one aspect of being declared not guilty and forgiven of sin. But we must come to terms that we are also declared righteous. Paul stated it this way:

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

The good news, that is the gospel, teaches that we are not only forgiven but we have also become the righteousness of God. Christ took our sin and gave us His righteousness. Therefore, the sons and daughters of God stand completely righteousness at this very moment! God’s people cannot become any more righteous than they are right now through their standing in Christ! That is the full gospel!

Of course, some see this as a possible ‘license to sin’. Yet, for those who walk as if they now have a license to sin, I can only presume that they do not actually understand the power of the gospel and the radical transformation that has taken place in their life. Sure, we will not live a perfect life, but we have been changed within by the Spirit of God and, thus, we have not been given freedom to sin as we please.

In regards to the forgiveness of our sin, I have always loved what Jeremiah stated:

For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)

Did you catch that? Jeremiah prophesied something unique that would come in the new covenant: I will remember their sin no more. It’s not that God has a memory problem. It’s that He chooses not to remember. He has completely discarded our sin out of His mind. There is no recollection at all. This is echoed in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)

If you have been a Christian for even a little while you will have probably learned that passage in 1 John. Not only is God faithful to forgive our sins, but He is also righteous (or just) to do so. This might be a hard pill to swallow for some, but did you know that, if God did not forgive the sin of His children, He would become unrighteous. ‘Whoa, wait a second now,’ you might say! But, let’s think this through.

Remember, 1 John 1:9 teaches that God is both faithful and righteous to forgive our sins. So think of it this way – For those of us who have put our faith in Christ, we are assured that it was Christ Himself that bore our sin (1 Peter 2:24; etc). If Christ bore our sin and God, then, decided to hold it against us, this would be known as double payment. But God cannot hold our sin against both Christ and us, can He? In reality, either we pay the penalty for our sin or Christ, but not both. And for those who have put their faith in Christ, we rest in the fact that it was Him that paid for our sin. Hence, it would be absolutely unrighteous for God to hold our sin against us. He will remain both faithful and righteous to His promise.

I end with an illustration: If I had a $20 bill that I wanted to give to you, I am sure you would simply be willing take it. And you could go anywhere and use that $20 bill to buy twenty dollars worth of goods. But if that $20 bill were crumpled up in my hand, would you still want it? Of course. You could still use the money to its full. And even if I stomped on that crumpled $20 bill, you would still take it, for it would still be worth its $20 value. The same is true in our own lives. We each have been through and will go through a lot, even sin. But the reality is that no matter what we have gone through (or what we have been ‘trampled’ under), we are still valuable in the eyes of God. This is not because of our own value that we have earned, but this value is based upon the blood of Christ. And that value will never change, for the authority and power of Christ’s blood is unchanging. Again, it is not a license to sin, but is an assurance of who we are in our identity in Christ.

To sum up: Though we stood condemned before God before we came to Christ, we now, because of being joined to Christ, have been justified. We not only have a standing of not guilty, but we also have been declared absolutely righteous in Christ! And in all actual fact, we cannot become more righteous than we are right now in Christ! That is good news, that is gospel.

The next article will be posted soon looking at our identity in Christ and the new heart God has given us.