A Necessary Negative
In the last issue of Guardian of Truth I had an article entitled "A Requested Affirmation." Brother Mike Willis had repeatedly asked me to write an affirmative of my convictions regarding forgiveness for the Christian. I submitted that affirmative with the understanding that I then be allowed to present a negative regarding some of the teaching Mike has done on this same subject.
I have genuine appreciation for many, many fine articles in Guardian of Truth in recent times, but I have serious negatives to offer with regard to many of Mike's editorials over the last several years. In this brief review, it will be impractical for me to quote at length from the many editorials to which I object, but in a letter to me dated October 8, 1984, Mike summed up those arguments he had made, and did so very neatly and briefly. I quote his full paragraph as follows:
For the sake of further clarification regarding my views of what sin does to a person in order that both of us can understand each other more accurately, let me make these comments. I believe that any time a Christian commits a sin, he stands condemned (Gal. 2:14) or he dies spiritually (Gen. 3). In order to be forgiven of that sin, he must repent of his sin, confess it, and pray for forgiveness from the Lord. I do not believe that a man can stand justified before God so long as he continues in the practice of sin. Though there are many circumstances which brethren can imagine to which I cannot give the answer, I know of no Bible verse to which I can direct a man who commits a sin of weakness, ignorance, inadvertence, or presumption which teaches that he can stand justified in the sight of God without ceasing the practice of his sin.
After years of correspondence with Mike, I believe the above paragraph does indeed express exactly what Mike believes and teaches. If you would add up all that he has written on this subject, the above paragraph would summarize it all. So let us consider, as follows:
Reviewing Each Sentence
1. Mike says that anytime a Christian sins he dies spiritually, or stands condemned. Let's try that on for size! The brethren at Corinth were guilty of division, of compromising with immorality, of going to law with each other, of mis-use of the Lord's supper and of some other things. Yet Paul addressed them in the first chapter of his first epistle to them with very endearing terms and with no indication that they were dead spiritually. Peter was weak in the flesh and was guilty of dissimulation -- needed to be blamed -- but there is no indication that he was lost at the time (and we don't even know what his reaction was to Paul's scolding). Paul admitted that he had to struggle with his own flesh and that he sometimes didn't do what he wanted to do, etc. (see Rom. 7:14-25; 1 Cor. 9:26, 27).
Certainly, if we live in sin (Rom. 6:1,2), we die spiritually and stand condemned. If we practice the "works of the flesh," we cannot enter the kingdom of God (see Gal. 5:19-21). There are sins unto death" and "sins not unto death" (1 Jn. 5:16). Most of all, there are people who sin whose hearts are not right with God (Acts 8:21), and there are those who sin whose hearts are indeed right with God and whom God forgives. For example, Ananias and Sapphira lied and died. Abraham hod three times and lived (see Acts 5:1-10; Gen. 12:13; 20:5; 26:7). This does not mean that sincerity will save a person who follows a false doctrine and thus is not "in Christ," or who does not follow faithfully. But it surely does mean that some sins of weakness, ignorance or inadvertence that are committed by faithful Christians whose hearts are right with God, are forgiven and not reckoned against those people (see Rom. 4:7,8; 1 Jn. 2:1).
2. Mike says that in order to receive forgiveness of that sin "he must repent of his sin, confess it and pray." Of course, the faithful Christian will always have a penitent attitude that motivates him to pray, "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Lk. 18:13) and "Cleanse thou me from secret faults" (Psa. 19:12). But notice that Mike's statement suggests that each sin must be identified by the person involved. He steadfastly denies that each sin must be specified but what else do those statements mean? He speaks of "that sin" and "confess it."
Now suppose you offend your brother but you do not know you offended him. He never tells you. You die without knowing about it. Or suppose you tell a lie, but you did not know it was a lie. And you never find out. Or suppose you use a euphemism that actually is profanity, but you don't know that is its meaning. You never find that out. Scores of such examples could be mentioned. My point is this: Is there anyone who will affirm that he knows perfectly every truth, that he follows perfectly that which he does know and that he perceives perfectly all of his own faults? Who is so arrogant?
3. Mike says he does not believe one can be justified as long as he continues in the practice of his sin. Well, certainly one who "lives in sin," that is, practices those sins that constitute him as living after the flesh and not after the Spirit-one who walks in darkness and not in the light-that person has no promise of forgiveness. But one whose heart is right with God will not live in such sins-he will not practice the "works of the flesh." Yet, his heart may be right even when he does not know everything, and when he still has some weaknesses of the flesh. Indeed, every humble Christian will acknowledge that this is his condition. If it were not so, he would need no Savior, no justification, no grace. He could lift up his clenched fist and say, "I am good enough."
4. Mike says he knows of no Scripture that promises justification to a person "without ceasing the practice of sin." John said, ". . . sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father" (1 Jn. 2: 1). He didn't say, "Sin not and if you cease from sin, then you have an advocate."
A few people who carelessly read what I have written, or who read with preconceived notion, will say I am excusing sinfulness and am giving license to ignorance, etc. But those who read carefully and without bias will see that: (a) I teach that the Scriptures condemn all sin (Rom. 6:23); (b) I teach that "the works of the flesh," rebellion and rejection constitute one unfaithful and without forgiveness (Gal. 5:19-21; Heb. 10:29; etc.); (c) I teach that we must "resist the devil" and "draw near to God" (Jas. 4:7,8).
At the same time you will see that I teach a doctrine of hope and assurance. We don't have to live in fear and dread. We don't have to despair because we find weaknesses in our own lives. Our hope is not in human merit (perfection) but our hope is Christ, the sinless, suffering, sacrificed Savior of all who come to God by Him (see Heb. 4:15; 5:8,9; 9:24~28; 7:25). In Him we "have a strong consolation," the "hope which is an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast" (Heb. 6:18,19).
In concluding this "Necessary Negative," I point out that the views Brother Mike Willis has advocated really mean there is no hope at all unless there is perfect discernment, perfect application, and perfect perception of self. But I have also shown there is genuine assurance if a Christian maintains a heart that is right with God and a devotion that keeps him walking in the light and walking not after the flesh but after the Spirit (1 Jn. 1:7; Rom. 8:14).
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 12, pp. 368-370