By Herschel Patton
A brother recently published a brief outline on things bound and loosed in heaven that contained a section on the above title. Knowing who wrote the outline is not important. He is a highly respected, faithful, gospel preacher. I believe an issue is involved, and issues should be settled by reason and Scripture, not by who and how many believe this or that. I have no question about any of the outline presented, except for part of the section “C” under “Conditional Free Salvation. Here is the paragraph I want to examine.
The alien must be immersed into Christ — as a penitent believer — but when be does so, he has paid no price at all. But Jesus “loved as and washed as from our sins In His own blood” (Rev. 1:5). The Christian most not “live in sin” (Rom. 6:1,2), but be must “walk not after the flesh but after the spirit” (item. 8:1). Thus, while faithful to the Lord, and though still not sinless (1 Jn. 1:8) “he is a continual recipient of conditional free salvation-by the amazing grace of God.
Notice in the above paragraph, with reference to the alien, the conditions are stated in order for him to enjoy conditional free salvation, but no conditions are mentioned for the sinning Christian to enjoy conditional free salvation, other than refraining from a continuous walk after the flesh. Is there a basis for conditional free salvation for sins of Christians other than that specified-repentance and prayer? This is implied. There should be a parallel in what is necessary for both the alien and Christian if both obtain conditional free salvation.
A parallel would be the alien (1) believes, (2) repents, and (3) and is immersed (as stated in the paragraph under study) to receive conditional free salvation; the Christian is commanded “not to live in sin” (Rom.. 6:1,2), not to “walk after the flesh but after the spirit” (Rom. 8:1) and to “sin not” 0 Jn. 2: 1); he is told “and if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” “If we (1) confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9); (2) “Repent” and (3) “pray” (Acts 8:22), and he will receive conditional free salvation by the amazing grace of God.
The statement, “The Christian must not five in sin (Rom. 6:1-2) but he must ‘walk not after the flesh but after the spirit’ (Rom. 8:1), thus while faithful to the Lord, and though still not sinless (1 Jn. 1:8), he is a continual recipient of conditional free salvation-by the amazing grace of God” (emphasis mine-H.P.) implies (1) that one may be “walking in the light” or “faithful to the Lord” even when engaged in sin, and (2) that for such sins on the part of this otherwise faithful one, there is a continual cleansing by the blood of Christ, apart from the conditions mentioned in the Scriptures. These implications have caused some to go further and embrace the grace-fellowship doctrine which condones institutionalism, the social gospel, etc.
We are told that in the life of a faithful Christian there may be sins-things that God does not approve, things that are not acts of faithfulness-but because of the general life of faithfulness, which is approved of God, He simply forgives and does not reckon such sin to one. Romans 4:7-8 is thought to teach this.
Admittedly, we do sin (1 Jn. 1:8) and “if we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn. 2: 1), but does this advocacy the Christian has, who occasionally sins, involve a forgiving and non-reckoning on the part of God, or confession, repentance, and prayer which are the conditions for receiving forgiveness? We are told that it is both … that even these occasional, inadvertent sins must be repented of, but the confessing and repentance had in mind is general in nature: “If I have sinned . . . When I sin (unawares) . . . I pray, ‘Lord be merciful to me a sinner,” and the Lord will forgive.
The natural consequences of this suggests that the brother in Christ who “walks not after the flesh but after the spirit,” manifesting faithfulness to every command and obligation according to his knowledge of Scripture, but does not understand that singing in worship with an instrument, supporting institutionalism and being in an adulterous marriage, are sinful can pray this general prayer, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner,” and the Lord will forgive and not reckon this one a sinner.
Which Way Is It?
I do not deny that our Lord, through His blood, provided for continuous cleansing (one offering-one time, Heb. 7:27; 9:25-28; 1 Jn. 1:7). The question is how does his blood continually cleanse? (1) By God forgiving and not reckoning on the basis of general purpose and faithfulness, or (2) by conviction of sin, repentance, and prayer?
I cannot find Scripture that says to Christians don’t worry or be concerned about occasional, inadvertent, unknowledgeable sins in your fife for God will forgive and not reckon these to you, but I can find many admonitions to watch, examine, test, prove, and take heed lest you fall. But, we are told that there are sins of which we may be guilty that do not result in falling. Just what might these sins be?
Sin is defined as transgression of law (1 Jn. 3:4), failing to do what we know to do (Jas. 4: 10), and unrighteousness (1 Jn. 5:17). Just what transgression of law, act of unrighteousness, or failure to do what we know to do will not result in falling? Is there a passage, an example, in the Scriptures of guilt in such realms that does not call for repentance of “it”? But, we are told, if every “it” has to be repented of, then unless we die with a prayer upon our Ups we may indeed die lost and every hour of every day and night would be a day and an hour of misery and fear. This statement completely ignores the mercy and providence of God in providing for the enlightenment of honest, sincere seekers and servants of truth,. and, implies that sincere, dedicated service will keep you continually forgiven and cleansed of all inadvertent, secret, and moment of weakness sins.
Two ways of cleansing for the sinning Christian are being suggested, (1) by confession, repentance, and prayer, and (2) by a penitent attitude, manifested by general repentance-“Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” It is denied that a second way is being advocated because there must be repentance (general) even for inadvertent, unknown sins. May I ask, is this prayer of general repentance, with no particular sin in mind, a condition for being forgiven of sins already committed or those yet to be committed? If only those already committed, then what if one commits a sin after he last prayed, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner” and dies before repeating that prayer? Wouldn’t this one be in the same situation as is attributed by the advocates of this “continual cleansing” idea to the one who believes every sin must be repented of so far as living in fear is concerned? If it is said that this general repentance prayer covers sins yet to be committed, then you have a cleansing based on attitude and without repentance, for how can one repent of something not yet done? This clearly reveals the second way of cleansing for the Christian, based on general faithfulness and a penitent attitude, rather than repentance, confession, and prayer-conditions that the Lord laid down in order for Christians to be cleansed by the blood of Christ.
We are told that this continual cleansing, conditioned on faithfulness-“walking in the light,” and a penitent attitude does not apply to following a false doctrine, practicing works of the flesh, or unfaithfulness but to sins of weakness, ignorance or inadvertence by people whose hearts are right with God. Again, I ask, what sin can you list of this nature that would be a transgression of law, unrighteousness, or a failure to do what you know to do (the Bible definition of sin)? We are told that following false doctrine (institutionalism, instrumental music in worship, etc.) is not one of these continuously forgiven and not reckoned sins, even though committed by a conscientious, in ignorance, honest Christian who regularly prays, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” A work of the flesh (drunkenness, adultery, etc.) is not one for this is unrighteousness (though some teaching this “continuous cleansing” doctrine have gone so far as to say adultery might, under some circumstances, be so forgiven and not reckoned). Forsaking the assembling, knowing you should and could but just don’t, would not be forgiven and not reckoned sin for this would be unfaithfulness, something that one would need to confess, repent of, and pray to be cleansed. So, what kind of things are in the mind of those who speak of forgiven and not reckoned sins?
Here are some examples of sins continuously cleansed, given by one who holds this belief.
(1) You offend a brother. He never tells you. You never know you have offended, and die without knowing it.
Is such sin? Does God regard me a sinner because someone took offence at something I said or did, when there was no intent on my part and I never knew any one took offence? If I purposely offend someone or live and act in such a way that someone loses his soul because of me, sin would definitely exist because I would have transgressed God’s law both in purpose of heart and in such actions as would cause one to be lost. Surely this is not the kind of offence in the mind of those who say it will be forgiven and not reckoned. On what grounds does one call sin an unintended and unknown offence, or regard such an offender a sinner? One who does this may be of an attitude that would cause him to regret, and be sorry, if such ever happened, which God would admire and respect, but he would stand in need of no cleansing from sin by the blood of Christ.
(2) Telling a lie, unknowingly, and never finding it out. A lie is “to utter falsehood with an intention to deceive, or with an immoral design; to say or do that which is designed to deceive another…” (Webster). It is impossible to be guilty of lying unknowingly. One may utter an untruth unknowingly and never find it out, but this is not the sin of lying. God has nowhere revealed such to be lying, or that one who unknowingly states an untruth has committed the sin of lying. If no sin exists, there is no failing or need for cleansing.
(3) Using a euphemism that actually is profanity without knowing what is its meaning. Who says such is profanity? Taking God’s name in vain is a direct transgression of God’s law, but using an expression that some people refer to God, a thing unknown to the user and used with no intent to show irreverence, could not constitute profanity that is sin. If God does not regard one a sinner, then there is nothing to be cleansed. If it is truly a euphemism that is profanity, then it would simply be an ignorant sin to be forgiven upon repentance.
If this is the kind of thing that is called sin and is continually cleansed by the blood of Christ on the part of a faithful Christian, the words “sin” and “cleansed” are misused, resulting in misunderstandings. When one talks about sinning while still faithful, it is natural for people to think of transgressing some law (instruments of music in worship, institutionalism, etc.), committing some act of unrighteousness in a moment of weakness or under great temptation (adultery, drunkenness, etc.), or knowingly missing services because they are faithful “most” or the time. Surely we -can see how the “grace-fellowship” issue and various Calvinistic concepts can evolve from this teaching.
Failing To Reach Perfection Is Not A Sin
True, we all have weaknesses and are lacking in knowledge, so there is always room for growth. Realizing this should increase our watchfulness, examining of self, and a humble feeling of unworthiness, which the Lord requires as we grow toward the mark of perfection. When we learn that one of these weaknesses has caused us to sin, we should repent of it. But failure to reach the mark of perfection as we purposefully endeavor to serve God is not transgression (sin), for God has not demanded perfection of us. In this realm, God’s mercy, longsuffering, and grace is manifested in not charging us with sin; hence, there is no need for cleansing.
When a Christian commits sin, conditional free salvation or cleansing is always available when the conditions are met, but I know of no passage that teaches some sins will be forgiven and not reckoned apart from repentance, confession and prayer. I see no scriptural grounds for making conditional free salvation mean something different for “some” sinning Christians than for “others.”
Some of us have used the word sin in referring to weaknesses and failures, involving abilities, opportunities, situations, etc., that God considers in judging us sinners or not sinners, but only from the standpoint of missing the mark of perfection-a thing that God does not require. His requirement is that we sincerely do the best we can. Weakness and blundering in developing patience, courage, longsuffering, love, etc. (unless they lead us to commit sin), do not make us sinners in need of cleansing. “Be ye angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26). Consciousness of such weakness will cause us to confess that when we “have done all commanded, we are still unprofitable servants,” and ask for God’s help and grace. When these weaknesses cause us to transgress, be unrighteous, or knowingly fail to do, we commit sin and must repent and pray for forgiveness. When the word sin is, or has been, used with reference to these things, the nature of what was so being branded has always been pointed out. This clarification is made lest one think we are talking about what the Bible calls sin and conclude one can transgress, be unrighteous, or knowingly neglect duty and remain in God’s favor.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 5, pp. 139, 150-151
March 7, 1985