By O.C. Birdwell
A sermon was preached in which sin, repentance, and forgiveness were discussed. The subject was the Corinthians, their sins, Paul’s rebuke of them, and their repentance. Some of the sins of these people were listed as follows: The “sins committed were numerous.” There was “factionalism,” “carnality,” and “unnecessary lawsuits.” They were “harboring an incestuous man.” They were “either deliberately or ignorantly violating the consciences of others. ” They were “not partaking of the Lord’s Supper, but conducting their own with over indulgences and excesses.” There was “failure to properly exercise spiritual gifts,” and “error regarding the resurrection” was taught.
The Corinthians “became arrogant” and “had not mourned.” It was affirmed that Paul’s letter “produced godly sorrow in them.” The letter was designed “to change their thinking.” They then “approved themselves to be pure.” Quite clearly this was after their sin, Paul’s first letter, and their repentance (2 Cor. 7: 11). It was shown that this case illustrates “genuine repentance.” It was also stated that “repentance is not genuine until the offense is stopped” and “there can be no forgiveness without repentance.”
This all sounds good and is scriptural, but the sermon was not over. The preacher went on to affirm that Paul’s letter was designed to change their thinking and keep them in the way of “being saved, ” and that “the lesson we must learn from this is what the Corinthians did in order to stay in the way that leads to ultimate salvation.” It was clearly inferred that while they were committing all the sins listed, at the same time, they stood before God in a saved relationship. It was affirmed that “true repentance removes any regrets and causes one to say, ‘I stopped it because it is, wrong and would eventually result in my eternal misery.”‘
I have no problem with the statement, “We are all in the process of being saved,’ 1 if by that it is meant that we are in the process of trying to go to heaven. The question I insist on being answered is, “Were those people, who were guilty of the above sins, standing before God in a saved relationship before their repentance? If they had died before their repentance, would they go to heaven?”
My Bible indicates that the guilty Corinthians, who were children of God, stood before God in a lost condition because of their sins. Those who were guilty of “factionalism” and “carnality” committed the sins of “envy, strife, and division” (1 Cor. 3:3) – sins listed by Paul in the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 which keep a Christian out of the kingdom of heaven. To those who were defiling the temple of God by division, Paul said, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy” (1 Cor. 3:16). To those involved in lawsuits, Paul said, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Those who cause a weak brother to stumble, “sin” against their brethren and “sin against Christ” (1 Cor. 8:12). The misuse of one’s liberties was still under discussion when Paul said, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27) and “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10: 12).
Regarding those who denied the resurrection, Paul had considerable to say. He identified the resurrection as fundamental to the doctrine of Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-19). Those who deny the bodily resurrection, also denied Christ’s resurrection by implication. Their false doctrines were dangerous, even to those who followed them with a good conscience. Paul warned, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33). Those who did not keep the resurrection as part of their faith did not stay saved (1 Cor. 15:1-3). This is not a problem peculiar to the first century. There are brethren today who deny that there is a future second coming of Jesus and bodily resurrection. Are these false teachers in the “process of being saved”? Surely a gospel preacher could not describe those who deny the resurrection as being in the “process of being saved”!
Our Baptist friends have argued “once in grace, always in grace” for years. When one asks them about a person who was saved becoming involved in a sin, they sometimes reply, “He never was saved to start with.” Some of our brethren are not much different. They argue that a child of God who becomes involved in sin remains in the “process of being saved” in spite of his sins. If one raises the question of what would happen to this man if he is confronted with his sin and chooses to remain in it, these preachers begin to answer like our Baptist friends. If this man in the “process of being saved” commits a sin, they say he remains in a saved relationship with God. When you confront him and he decides to continue in his sin, he becomes lost. Hence, why should I tell him about his sin? My confronting him with his sin might cause him to become lost! There response is this: “If he chooses to stay in his sin, he never was saved to start with” (i.e., he never was good, honest, and sincere). The differences in these two positions are too small for me to distinguish.
If one will tell us plainly where the child of God stands before God, after he sins and before he repents, I believe the discussion on this subject will be over. Gospel preachers have fallen on hard times when they can’t tell a person who is guilty of carnality, factionalism, harboring an incestuous man, denying the resurrection of the body, and going to law with a brother whether or not they stand justified before God!
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 6, pp. 166-167
March 21, 1985