By Hiram Hutto
(Editor’s Note: The following excellent article by brother Hiram Hutto appeared in the 30 June 1987 issue of Sentry Magazine without editorial comment or review. We reproduce it here as one of the clearest statements on the “continuous cleansing” issue yet written and commend it to our readers.)
First of all, it should be pointed out that the question is self-contradictory. How? It speaks about the blood continually cleansing. 1 John 1:7 tells us that his blood cleanseth us from sin. So, if the blood is continually cleansing, it is continually cleansing from sin, which means that there is sin present that needs cleansing. That being true, the person who is being continually cleansed must be continually sinning. Now, how can a person be called a faithful saint (both terms) while at the same time he is continually sinning? Clearly, the question contradicts itself.
Further, to imply that a Christian is one who continually sins is to contradict the Bible. It says that a Christian does not practice sin (1 John 3:9, NASB; the same tense and idea is in 3:6 and 5:18). If a person who is continually sinning isn’t practicing sin, what on earth would he have to do to practice it? Again, when Paul asks, “Shall we continue in sin?”, he answers “God forbid” (Rom. 6:1). According to the position we are examining, he should have said, “Not only may we continue in sin, but we will be faithful saints while so doing”! The fact is, this passage and others show that sin is not the norm for the Christian, it is the exception.
What is frequently meant by such questions as heads this article is: Is the faithful saint automatically cleansed of sins of ignorance and/or weakness. 1 John 1:7 is cited to prove that he is. Not only does I John 1:7 not teach that doctrine, the passage says absolutely nothing per se about sins of weakness or ignorance. It says the blood of Jesus cleanses us “from all sin.” Whatever the passage says about sins of ignorance and weakness, it says the same thing about sins of rebellion and disobedience. It says “all sin.” But someone might respond (and the idea is current), the person under consideration in 1 John I is said to “walk in the light” and a person who is walking in the light will not be guilty of sins of rebellion and disobedience, only sins of weakness and/or ignorance. Who said so? Did God? If so, where? Obviously, a person who is guilty of rebellion and disobedience is not “in the light” at the point at which he is guilty of rebellion or disobedience, but no sin is “in the light.” After all, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), and if sin is not darkness, what is? There is no sin (rebellion, disobedience, or whatever) in the light.
Consider another point. In Hebrews 3:2 God says that Moses was “faithful in all his house”; yet at Meribah God said that Moses “did not believe in me” (Num. 20:12) and that he “rebelled against my rod” (v. 24). Although, in general, Moses was described as faithful, he certainly was not faithful there, neither did God approve nor automatically forgive him. Instead, God was wroth (Deut. 3:27) and would not hear Moses, but rebuked him. I cannot conceive of anyone’s thinking that he was faithful in the point where God said he did not believe, and that he was rebellious. To say otherwise is to say that a person can be full of faith (faithful) in a point where he is lacking in faith. A person might be faithful in a number of areas, and yet be unfaithful at some particular point, and as it was in Moses’ case, a very vital point. Surely nobody would claim that Moses died still impenitent and rebellious about the matter but God forgave him anyway. The idea that the only kinds of sins that a faithful Christian (one who walks in the light) commits are sins of ignorance and weakness is not taught in the Bible, nor does it teach that God automatically forgives those (or any other) sins.
To say that a person is automatically cleansed, like the windshield wiper (or that he benefits; i.e., is forgiven, even as he sins), sounds too much like the Baptist preacher who said that he could seduce some woman but God would work it out for his good (benefit). It reminds me of the Baptist who affirmed in a debate with me that a child of God could get drunk, that he could die drunk, and would go to heaven anyway; that a child of God could lie, that he could die with a lie on his tongue (as did Ananias and Sapphira), and he would go to heaven anyway; that a child of God could commit adultery, that he could get killed in the act, and the child of God could commit adultery with a person who was not a child of God, that both of them get killed in the act, and the child of God would go to heaven but the one who was not a child of God would go to Hell. Frankly, it surprised me when he affirmed this publicly and openly, but it shocked me to learn that some brethren evidently believe it and some teach that which logically leads to the same conclusion. I did not believe it then, and I do not believe it now.
The Bible clearly teaches that a child of God can sin. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But it just as clearly teaches that a child of God does not have to sin. In fact, John wrote his first epistle so that his readers would “sin not” (2:1). If a Christian cannot keep from sinning, he has to sin, and John wasted his letter. Such a claim impugns the wisdom of God. And Peter says, “If ye do these things, ye shall never stumble” (2 Pet. 1:10) that a child of God can not fall (note the important difference between “cannot” [impossible] and “can not” [possible not to]). He doesn’t have to fall. If a Christian must sin (“man, because he is man, sins” is as false when taught by “conservative” brethren, as it is when taught by Edward Fudge or John Calvin), why does God hold him responsible for doing something he could not keep from doing anyway?.Such does away with man’s being a creature of choice. Man sins all right enough, not because he must sin, but because he chooses to sin, and therefore is guilty. The idea that a faithful Christian saint is continually cleansed because he is continually sinning is not in the Bible.
Some have even claimed that when a person unknowingly violates God’s law, God automatically forgives him (like the windshield wiper), then later when man learns that he has broken God’s law he must repent, etc. Why should he repent? What does he have to repent of? After all, if God forgave him at the time he sinned, the sin isn’t on his record; he doesn’t need to repent. What he should do, if the argument is correct, is thank God for having already forgiven him without repentance and before he ever learned about it! Still others claim that a person who unwittingly violates God’s law is not then guilty (they need to read Lev. 4:13,22,27) but when he later learns that he has violated God’s law, if he does not then repent, he is guilty. Among the many problems with this argument is, it changes God’s definition of sin. God said, “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). This doctrine says, “No, this is wrong.
Sin is not the transgression of the law. Sin is the awareness of the transgression of the law.” But the Bible doesn’t teach that either.
Yes, Christians sin, and God has made provisions for them when they do, but he has made no provisions for them to live in sin. When John states that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, he does what is frequently done in the Scriptures – he is simply stating a truth without giving all the details of the matter. Just as Jesus said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34), he did not give any conditions for forgiveness, and it was several days later when Peter told them what those conditions were (Acts 2:36-38). So the blood cleanses us from all sin (v. 7), but it is verse 9 that mentions one of the conditions man must meet for that forgiveness; it does not mention all of them for it says nothing about repentance. That is learned, elsewhere. The passage also says that we must confess our sins. It does not say we are to confess that we are sinners, nor does it say that if we confess that we are sinners, God will forgive. That may or may not be true, but 1 John 1:7-9 does not say so. It says that we are to confess our sins to be forgiven. Instead of teaching one to be confident of his salvation and feel secure about it because the blood of Christ will automatically or continually cleanse our sins, we need to teach people as Peter did Simon, “Repent . . . of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22).
No, the faithful saint is not continually cleansed by the blood of Christ because a faithful saint is not continually sinning. But a saint may be often cleansed by the blood, just as often as he meets the conditions given by God.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 16, pp. 491-492
August 20, 1987