By James R. Cope
(Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from an article written by James R. Cope. The article was entitled “Salvation By Grace,” and appeared in the November 1, 1974 issue of the Gospel Guardian, which more than coincidentally was the first issue edited by Eugene Britnell. This section from Brother Cope’s article states precisely what I believe about the forgiveness of sins for sinner and saint. Along with Brother Cope, 1 say, “If anyone knows of any instance when God forgave or promised to forgive His child’s sin apart from repentance and prayer by that child, that person will render all of God’s children a great service by enlightening them on the whereabouts of that scripture.” All of this talk we have been hearing about the imputation of the personal perfect righteousness of Christ to the Christian, and that God does not impute sins of ignorance, or sins that result from the weakness of the flesh to Christians, are but efforts to circumvent God’s conditions of forgiveness for His children. 1 merely want to add my “Amen!” to the following good, clear remarks by Brother Cope. Cecil Willis)
Grace and the Erring Child
The same passage (Tit. 3:5) which speaks of the grace which brings salvation from past sins demands that those who are thus pardoned must deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12). The nature of God’s grace does not change because a man is delivered in baptism from the guilt and power of past sins. The same God who extends His grace conditionally to the alien saved by faith extends conditionally His grace to His child in his failure to be guarded by faith unto whatever salvation he receives in heaven which he does not have on earth.
In principle that which is true of the alien saved by God’s grace is also true of the saint saved by God’s grace. When Paul said, “Now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11), he sets forth salvation in three tenses – present (“now”), future (“nearer”), and past (“than when we first believed). Peter speaks of the future salvation in heaven when he describes the “living hope” of the believer. He calls it “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:3-5). This same salvation has not yet become a reality for he says saints should “as newborn babes long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation” (I Peter 2:2). These are “guarded through faith” because they “walk by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7).
Christians not only “walk by faith” but God’s children must “walk in the light” (1 Jn. 1:6). In fact, to “walk by faith” is to “walk in the light” since a Christian’s faith comes through hearing God’s word (Rom. 10:17). In the sinful act God’s child does not walk by faith for in sinning he does not walk by God’s word; hence, he is walking in darkness.
“Can two walk together except they be agreed” (Amos 3:3)? How many sins must be committed for one to be out of step with God? In Acts 8:20-23 Simon’s “thought to obtain the gift of God with money” was enough “wickedness” to place him “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity” and, according to Apostle Peter, his single sin demanded that he “repent of this thy wickedness and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee.” If this child of God had to repent and pray for forgiveness of one sin, in the absence of apostolic teaching to the contrary, can any other disciple be forgiven of any sin apart from his repentance and prayer? If so, by whose authority and by what process – by faith or by feeling?
Certainly Apostle John tells us that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sins” but the same apostle in the same context says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:7-9). When did the blood of Jesus cleanse Simon of his sin before or when he repented and, prayed for forgiveness? Let us not forget that the same Apostle John was present when Peter told Simon to repent and pray! If the blood of Jesus Christ does not cleanse an alien of sin until he repents and is baptized, why should any person think the same blood of God’s Son will cleanse a child of God of sin until he repents and prays?
Truly “where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly” (Rom. 5:20), but grace is nowhere pictured in the Bible as saving anybody anywhere anytime from one sin, few sins, or many sins apart from the guilty sinner’s meeting the Lord’s stipulated conditions of forgiveness! If anyone knows any instance when God forgave or promised to forgive His child’s sin apart from repentance and prayer by that child, that person will render all of God’s children a great service by enlightening them on the whereabouts of that scripture. If and when one affirms that God’s grace overlooks unconfessed sins under any condition, why isn’t that one “playing God”? If God has said He will forgive His child who has repented of a sin and prayed for forgiveness, who has the right to say God will forgive His impenitent, non-petitioning child who has sinned?
If a disciple who has sinned does not need grace, who does? If he is not in need of mercy when guilty, who is? If a child of god is not in need of forgiveness following sin, how can one ever be in need of anything? If Hebrews 11:16 is not addressed to such a person, then there is no Bible text involving God, Christ, the grace of God, a child of God, the child’s sin, and the child’s forgiveness! Lest we forget, here it is: “Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and find grace to help us in time of need.”
Brethren, let us keep up our “prayer-line.”
Truth Magazine XIX: 13, p. 198
February 6, 1975