Cleansed While Practicing Sin?

By Mike Willis

(Editor’s Note: The following article is an edited version of a reply to Leslie Diestelkamp which appeared in the October-December 1987 issues of Think. I have tried to remove most of the personal references in order to have a positive statement as much as possible, though some personal references could not be revised without significantly changing the content of the article. Perhaps this concise statement regarding the continuous cleansing discussion will be profitable to some of our readers.)

Several have asked questions or made comments regarding the continual cleansing discussion which has appeared at various times in this journal. Perhaps this statement of my understanding of these biblical truths might be helpful to others.

1. I am a sinner in need of the grace of God for salvation (Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:8-9). Anyone who represents Mike Willis as teaching salvation by perfect obedience either does not understand “salvation by perfect obedience,” what I believe, or willfully misrepresents me.

2. I believe a Christian can have an assurance of salvation (2 Tim. 4:6-8; 1 Jn. 5:13). My assurance of salvation is based on the forgiveness granted to me by the blood of Christ and rests on the promises of God. My assurance of salvation as an alien sinner came upon my obedience to the gospel in baptism (Mk. 16:15-16) and my assurance of forgiveness as an erring child of God comes upon meeting the conditions of repentance and confession of my sins (Acts 8:22-24). I find no assurance of salvation available to me or any other man based on perfect works (Rom. 3:23). I find no assurance of salvation to be found in the nature of the sins committed or the attitude of the sinner. I know of no passage which promises assurance to anyone who continues to practice his sin. That is the issue!

3. I do not believe that one must specify his every sin in order to be forgiven. The prodigal son made a general confession which God accepted (Lk. 15:18; cf. 18:13). The son could not be forgiven, however, until he quit his sinning.

4. I do not believe that sincerity substitutes for obedience. We have been told that sins of weakness, ignorance, and inadvertence do not separate a person from God. This stands opposed to these Scriptures: Rom. 10: 1-3; Acts 17:30; 1 Sam. 15:22; Prov. 14:12. The fact that a man is good, honest and sincere does not forgive him while he continues to practice his sins anymore than the fact that an alien sinner is good, honest and sincere saves him before and without him obeying the gospel (Mk. 16:15-16).

5. I have no divine authority to promise a man forgiveness so long as he continues in the practice of his sin. Good, honest and sincere Apollos (Acts 18:24-26) had to be taught the way of God more perfectly and change his practice to be acceptable before God. Some have written considerably regarding God’s mercy to one sinning in ignorance. I would like to see the passage which promises forgiveness to the man sinning in ignorance who has not quit the practice of his sin. Do Christian Church people stand justified, while continuing to worship with instrumental music, simply because they pray, “I have sinned”? I do not believe they do. They must quit practicing their sin in order to stand forgiven. Brother Marshall Patton was right when he assessed the continual cleansing doctrine in his debate with brother Diestelkamp: “The consequences of his position demand acceptance and fellowship with every sincere brother in error, including premillennialists, those of the Christian Church, our liberal brethren, et al. These pray the same prayer and just as often that brother Diestelkamp prays with respect to unknown sins” (GOT, 29:13, p. 17).

Grace-unity apostates have found comfort from brother Diestelkamp’s writings and have cited his articles and used his name in defence of their positions (Mark Nitz, Edward Fudge, Arnold Hardin, Bruce Edwards and others). They drew the same conclusion from brother Diestelkamp’s material as brother Patton and I have drawn. Surely brother Diestelkamp will not lightly dismiss the impression so many on both sides of the grace-unity issue have drawn from his writings. Brethren Nitz, Fudge, Hardin, and Edwards have simply applied to the institutional, sponsoring church, instrumental music, and church sponsored recreation controversies the conclusion taught by brother Diestelkamp namely, that a Christian’s continuous sins of ignorance, inadvertence, and weakness do not separate him from God. We do not believe he intends to encourage these apostates in their error and we plead with him to abandon the arguments which have given them so much comfort.

6. I teach salvation by the grace of God. The grace of God is extended to alien sinners on the conditions of faith, repentance, confession and baptism (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; etc.). The grace of God is extended to erring Christians on the conditions of repentance and confession (Acts 8:22; 1 Jn. 1:9). Those who teach that an alien sinner is justified by “faith only” say that I am denying the grace of God when I preach the Bible conditions of salvation for the alien sinner; continual cleansing advocates say that I am denying the grace of God when I preach the divine conditions for salvation for the erring Christian. In both cases they are wrong. I am preaching the grace of God when I preach the conditions for salvation!

7. I do not believe that one becomes an “apostate” (the man of Heb. 6.4-6) upon the commission of one sin. Upon the commission of a sin, a man becomes guilty before God (Gal. 2:11-14; Acts 8:22-24). Unless he repents of this sin, he will be eternally lost. I do not specify what kind of confession he must make – detailed or general. However, he is not the man of Hebrews 6:4-6 who has rebelliously defied God.

8. I do not believe there are any venial sins. By “venial” sins, I refer to sins which one can commit without coming into condemnation. If there are categories of sin – one -category which brings one into damnation and another which does not – continual cleansing advocates should be so kind as to list which sins bring which results. I believe all sin damns (Gal. 5:19-21), unless forgiven by the blood of Christ. Any sin which does not damn is not under discussion in 1 John 1:6-2:2.

The teaching of continual cleansing advocates has come under question because they have taught that some sins do not bring one into condemnation. For example, brother Diestelkamp cited the Bible case of Abraham’s lying as an example of a sin which was committed without separating one from God (GOT, 29:12, p. 17). In a personal letter he cited an example of a man involved in gambling for many months as one not separated from God by his sin. We ask what was the essential difference in their sins which did not damn and Peter’s sin (Gal. 2:11-14) and Ananias’ sin (Acts 5:1-11) which did damn? My good brother has overstepped the bounds of revelation when he promises men forgiveness before and without the cessation of the practice of the sin.

In conclusion, I want to re-emphasize that nothing that I have written in this article or in the past should be so interpreted as to mean that I believe that a man must specify every sin he has ever committed in order to stand justified before God. The key to this discussion is: no passage promises forgiveness for sins which a person habitually and continuously practices before and without ceasing the practice of the sin.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 6, pp. 162, 182-183
March 17, 1988