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Is it possible that a Christian can be saved but not forgiven of sin? I raise the question because of what is said in I John 1. "If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify [cleanse] us from all unrighteousness" (I Jn. 1:9 NIV). How does this statement mesh with the doctrine of justification?
Chafer says something confusing about justification and forgiveness. He says that justification has nothing to do with the pardon of sin. He says:
To forgive means subtraction while to justify means addition. Justification is a declaration of God respecting the Christian that he has been made forever right and acceptable to Himself. For so much as this to be declared there must be an unalterable reality on which it may rest. This basis is the position to which the Christian has been brought through God's grace (Systematic Theology, VII, p. 219).
Yet, on the question of forgiveness, he says:
The foundational truth respecting the believer in relation to his sins is the fact that when he was saved all his trespasses (the past, present, and future)--so far as condemnation may be concerned--were forgiven. This must be the meaning of the Apostle's word in Colossians 2:13, "having forgiven you all trespasses" (Ibid. VII, p. 163).
I think there is a better explanation. Let me first put it in simple terms, then I will cite biblical support.
We need to see the difference between justification and forgiveness and the connection between position and possession. Justification gives us a position of acceptance in Christ. Forgiveness shows we are using the possession of what we have in Christ. Let me use the analogy of child-birth and child-rearing to explain.
Justification and Position. When a child is born into a human family, the birth of a "perfect" child is the mother's first concern. I remember my wife telling me how, with all her new-born sons, the first thing she did when they were brought to her in the hospital was to count their fingers and toes and look them all over to see if there were any visible defects.
While the child was with her, she was attentive to anything she could see or hear that might reveal a defect. What a joy it was to this mother (and father) to have produced a perfect "bouncing baby boy."
Possession and Forgiveness. Though my wife and I had a "perfect" child, we were quite aware that there was far more to parenting than giving birth to a child. And this reality grew as our family grew to four boys. We knew that the next step was the rearing of the boys. Would they, who had all the benefits of a good genetic inheritance (nature) and parents committed to raising them in a Christian home (nurture)--would they lay hold of what they had in this family?
My wife and I knew that we would have the usual problems, particularly when the boys arrived at age two and realized that they were not just an extension of mother but were individuals in their own right. As all children do at this age, they started to push their independence. We had no problem with independence. Indeed, it is necessary for maturity, so long as it is an obedient independence.
Someone will ask, How can you call it independence if it is obedient? The answer is, rearing. The child no longer does what mom and dad say because they say it. Obedient independence is seen in the child who is personally convinced that his parent's way is the right way. This child follows that way by his own choice and in that sense is independent.
There are analogies to this in the spiritual life. When we are saved, our new position in Christ gives us everything we need to be reared by God as faithful Christians. Paul, addressing the saints (holy ones) in Ephesus are said to be blessed "with every spiritual blessing in Christ," the goal being, that we should be "holy and blameless" (Eph. 1:2-4).
This is what justification does. We have been equipped in Christ to live a holy and blameless life.
Chafer speaks of these blessings as the "thirty-three riches of divine grace" (Systematic Theology, vol. III, pp. 234-65). Under the subject of "justification," he mentions just four of these that typify the Christian (Ibid., vol. VII, pp. 220-22):
1. He is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17-18). 2. He is made the righteousness of God (in his position in Christ). (I Cor. 1:30; II Cor 5:21; Phil. 3:7-9). 3. He is perfected forever (Heb. 10:14). (He is "sanctified" or "set apart for God," and therefore, holy). 4. He has the fullness of Christ (Jn. 1:16; Col. 1:19; 2:9-10). God saved us to be "conformed to the likeness of His son" Rom. 8:28-29).
My point is that when we are justified on the day we are saved, and if we lived a sinless life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, there would be no need for forgiveness. Justification already will have made us acceptable to God.
However, and this is a big however--even though we are made a new creation and given a new nature, we still have a sin nature. The sin nature tempts us to sin and breaks our fellowship with God. We do not lose our salvation. It is fellowship that is lost. It is communion, not union that is lost.
Therefore, after our justification in Christ, God had to provide a means of restoring fellowship when we sin. Again, we have an analogy in human parenting.
Parents who bring into the world that "perfect" bouncing baby boy are determined to raise this child with all the benefits that their parental nature and nurture can bring to bear. But by the age of two the child shows that in spite of all the benefits he enjoys in this family, his behavior is not perfect. He pushed his independence and disobeys his parents, and his fellowship with them is broken.
Given the fact that the child's sin nature will tempt him to do this again and again, the parents need a way to resolve the problem. They let the child know that his disobedience has damaged his relationship with them. The solution is for him to confess his disobedience--to penitently say the same thing about his behavior that his parents are saying. They forgive him, and fellowship and harmony with the parents is reestablished.
The child going through this process over the years will learn with maturity that his parents are right in their expectations of him. As an adult he will become "obediently independent" or mature. His parents way has become his way.
The point I'm making for Christians is this. If we lived sinlessly perfect lives, forgiveness would be unnecessary. But because of our sin nature, forgiveness for sinful behavior after our salvation had to be made.
This is why I say that justification belongs to our position in Christ. Forgiveness through confession belongs to our possession of what we have in Christ.
The Apostle Peter speaks of believers being a "royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:4-10). This priesthood may be compared with the Old Testament priesthood and is analogous to what I have just described.
1) The OT priest had to be born to the right family--the family of Levi. The NT believer-priest is born to the right family--the family of God. 2) The OT priest could have no physical defects. The NT believer- priest is said to be perfect in his position in Christ (Heb. 10:13). 3) The OT priest underwent a complete bathing when he entered the priesthood. The NT priest undergoes "the washing of the new birth" (regeneration) when he is saved (Titus 3:5). 4) The OT priest never again was required to undergo a complete bathing to serve God. But he did undergo a ritual cleansing before he came near to God in daily service. Likewise, the NT believer-priest never again undergoes the complete washing, but he does undergo a ritual cleansing by the confession of sin to God. "God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify (cleanse) us from all unrighteousness" (I Jn. 1:9).
A word needs to be said also about God's being "faithful and just." God intends for the new believer to be saved and also to serve as a believer-priest. Given the fact that we have undergone the washing of the new birth (regeneration), we need not be completely washed again. We have undergone the cleansing of our unrighteousness in the washing of the new birth. But God can justly forgive our sins as a believer-priest given the fact that we are a new creation in Christ through the washing of the new birth. And He is faithful to do it upon our confession of our sin.
If it is true that justification has to do with the new birth and that forgiveness has to do with the rearing or the new Christian, what does Colossians 2 mean when it says:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).
It sounds from this that when God made us alive with Christ our sins were forgiven then! This apparent contradiction to what I have been saying is easily explained.
The Use of Different Words. When Paul in Colossians and John in I John use the Greek words for sin and for forgiveness we might expect them to use the same words and grammar if they were talking about the same thing. But they don't. They use different words for both sin and forgiveness.
1) Different Words for Sin. When John tells us to confess our sins he uses the word hamartia. It is the common word for sin, used about two-hundred times in the Greek New Testament. And he repeats the word five times in I John 1:7-10 (see the Englishman's Greek Concordance).
Paul, on the other hand, uses a different word for sin in Colossians. He uses the word paraptoma. This word is used twenty-two times in the Greek New Testament. What is more, in Ephesians 2:1, Paul uses both hamartia and paraptoma, and the grammar (the Granville Sharp Rule) makes it clear that these two words are defining something different about the two sins (see footnote).
2) Different Words for Forgiveness. The words used in Colossians and I John for forgiveness are also different.
In Colossians the word "forgive" is charizomai. This word is also used in Scripture for our forgiving one another (2 Cor. 2:7&10; 12:13; Eph. 4:32) or freely given as a gift (I Cor. 2:12). In Luke 7:42 it means "to be gracious."I suggest that Paul used this word because the Law had been done away. God's forgiveness of the Colossian's trespasses against the Law was a gracious gift, or more literally, a grace-gift now that the Law was gone! It was freely given because there was no offense!
John uses the word ephiemi for "forgive." It means quite literally, "to send away." Chafer was quite right when he said that justification was an addition; forgiveness was a subtraction. It was a sending away. And it is quite properly used of God's forgiveness or sending away of sin with its blame, guilt and the barrier of fellowship with God.
Different Issues Involved Not only do Paul and John use different words in describing sin and forgiveness, they both are dealing with different issues, which explains the use of different words for sin and forgiveness.
1) The Issue of Law-Breaking. Paul in Colossians is dealing with a problem in the church where believers have embraced false teaching--a mixture of Jewish ritualism and Oriental mysticism.
Evidently, the ritual of circumcision was practiced to show that they were abiding by the Mosaic Law. But Paul in Colossians 2:6-15 deals with this issue. He says that this ritual was meaningless because Christ in His crucifixion "canceled the written code with its regulations, that was against us ... nailing it to the cross." How could they be guilty of hamartia sin for Law-breaking when the Mosaic Law was no longer in force? This is why he uses paraptoma sin, "trespasses."
Actually, giving up their backsliding into the Law would be a return to grace! No wonder the word used for "forgive" can mean "gracious gift" or "free gift."
2) The Issue of Broken Fellowship With God. John, however, is dealing with a worse situation--broken fellowship with God. With the believers in I John, justification had already given the believer the riches of divine grace to serve God. But now, the act of sin stood in the way of those gifts being used. The barriers to fellowship with God and barriers to the believer's usefulness in God's work had to be removed. It had to be done by the wrenching experience of confession and ephiemi forgiveness.
The Colossians had no barrier to be removed. The cross had already done away with the Law. But believers to whom John writes had an immense barrier--sin that broke their fellowship with God.
I have attempted to show that justification belongs to our position in Christ together with all the riches of divine grace. Chafer is right. Justification is addition, not subtraction.
I have also attempted to show that forgiveness is not part of the doctrine of justification. In forgiveness, something is taken away--hence, the fundamental meaning of ephiemei, the forgiveness that comes with confession of sin.
Justification is achieved by the unbeliever taking by faith the gift of salvation on the cross. Forgiveness is achieved by the believer confessing his sin to God, saying the same thing about it that God says.
Justification is needed by the unbeliever to save him. Forgiveness is needed by the believer to restore fellowship with God.
Footnote on Ephesians 2:1 and the Words "Trespasses" and "Sins"
The student of the Greek text will certainly challenge my explanation of Ephesians 2:1. He may agree on the Granville Sharp Rule, but he may say, But these people were dead in trespasses (paraptoma) and sins (hamartia)!
It is true that both of these words show the spiritual deadness of the accused even though paraptoma is often used as a milder term for sin. But there are two considerations here.
1) Most languages have their peculiarities expressing meaning and intent. This is true of both English and Greek. English relies heavily on context, as do most languages. But Greek goes further in what might be called "lexical meaning." The grammatic construction influences the meaning of words. I discuss this in my essay "Who's In Charge Here?" (Part II) (see footnote 2). Whether it be context, Pauline theology or lexical meaning, it is clear that trespasses (paraptoma) and sins (hamartia) are not synonymous.
2) According to The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol. VI, p. 172), it is rare for Paul to make trespasses (paraptoma) equivalent to sins (hamartia). What is more, as the TDNT points out, there is a clear distinction between the two words when it comes to a discussion of law and grace. Sin (hamartia) was in the world before the Law of Moses (Rom. 5:13). But transgressions (paraptoma) were added to make clear man's distance from God and his need for God's grace. This is why the Law, "the written code" was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:4).
Since Paul in Ephesians 2 is dealing with Jews and Gentiles being one in the body of Christ, he would refer to that which was particularly besetting to both. Since the Gentiles were not under the Law, he would not refer to their "besetting sins" as transgressions. He would refer to them as "sins." Likewise, with the Jews, their "besetting sins" defeated them through the Law which they could not keep. He calls them "transgressions."
Though trespasses and sins both required grace, when the Law was gone there would be no more dealing with trespasses. Sins would remain, including the moral statements of the Law repeated in the New Testament (murder, adultery, theft etc.).
Therefore, my point is, after salvation for Jew and Gentile, the sin problem still existed. They were perfect before God in their justification, their position. But their possession of that perfection would fall to the influences of the sin nature, and they would sin. Thus, there was a need for the forgiveness of sins, but not trespasses. Back
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