By Herschel E. Patton
The first lesson in this series dealt with some false bases for confidence, believed and taught by many, and with the first ground for true confidence – the grace of God and the shed blood of Christ. This lesson deals with the conditions on which one benefits from God’s grace and the blood of Christ.
“Ifs” Of The Christian’s Confidence
Calvinistic philosophy advocates the “once saved always saved – can’t fall” doctrine. This teaching gives confidence (?) to one regardless of what he does or doesn’t do. It also stands in direct opposition to such passages as 1 Corinthians 10:1-12; 2 Peter 2:20-22; John 15:2,6; James 5:19-20.
The epistle of I John was written to emphasize the conditions for maintaining confidence on the part of a child of God. It is pointed out that a Christian can and does sin from time to time (1: 8, 10), how he does, and what is to be done about it. Throughout this epistle are listed proofs or evidences that we are children of God – having been born again – know we are saved, “if we walk in the light” (1:7); “confess sins” (1:9); “keep commandments” (2:3-5),”love not the world” (2:15); “remain-continue” (2:24); “our conscious condemns not” (3:20); “love one another” (4:12).
Many have made the mistake of selecting one of these “ifs” and claiming confidence because of it alone (e.g., 4:12 says, “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us.” I love the brethren so God dwells in me, even though I may not obey in some instances or may love the world) I John 3:21 says, “Beloved if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God . . . .” I have a clear conscience about what I do and am, so have confidence even though I may do wrong in many things! 1 John 1:7 states, “If we walk in the light – we have fellowship – with God and the blood of Christ cleanseth . . . .” I am walking in the light (?), have been translated into Kingdom of Light, am trying to serve God, so am confident that my sins of omission or commission, ignorantly or sincerely committed, are continually cleansed so that my confidence is never in jeopardy, even though I may be guilty of hundreds of sins through human weaknesses and/or ignorance!
The apostle John is not teaching the conclusions that have been drawn from the above examples in his epistle. Throughout the epistle, the apostle gives the ingredients, involving a number of “ifs,” or conditions, that result in, add up to, confidence. If just one ingredient (condition) is missing, confidence cannot be had. The apostle does not say Stone or two of these things, or most of these things if observed, will give confidence, but “these (all) things have I written unto you that believe … that ye may know that ye have eternal life” (5:13). He does not say, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments (2:3), unless you are ignorant of the commandments” or “If any man love the world, except he is ignorant of a thing being worldly or yields under strong temptation, the love of the Father is not in him” (2:15).
But, what if one is guilty regarding one or two of these ingredients that give confidence? The apostle makes it very clear that guilt in any area destroys confidence. Must one be forever without confidence? The answer is in 2:1-2. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9).
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one . . .” (Gal. 6:1).
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed . . .” (Jas. 5:16).
“Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him (he needs converting) . . . save a soul from death” (Jas. 5:19-20).
Simon, who had “believed,” sinned and was told, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22).
Certainly, continual cleansing through the blood of Christ (1:7) – the advocacy, propitiation by Christ – is ever available for the Christian who sins. But, is the cleansing automatic and apart from human responsibility? It is just as necessary for a sinning Christian to comply with stated conditions for cleansing as it is for an alien sinner. Neither is cleansed automatically.
One stated condition is, “If we confess our sins.” But, one asks, how can this be done if we are ignorant of the sins committed? The conclusion is then drawn that the general penitent attitude and confessions of a sincere, striving Christian will suffice. This, of course, gives confidence (?) to the sincere Christian who worships with an instrument, supports missionary societies, institutionalism, or is in an unscriptural marriage. But, someone says, “It seems unfair and unmerciful for God to condemn an otherwise faithful child who is ignorantly sinning.” Is this any more unfair than condemning the heathen who are completely ignorant of God and the Christ?
Brethren have said for years, and I believe on scriptural grounds, that God, in His providence, will see to it that where ever there is a soul that would be receptive to His truth, there will be extended the opportunity, as Paul was led to Macedonia by-passing other fields and people. Too, God’s mercy and grace is manifested in “giving space (time) to repent” (Rev. 2:21) – opportunity to learn and know. I have just such faith in God’s providence and mercy.
But, says another, “What if an otherwise faithful Christian dies before he has time to repent of a sin he commits?” This question is the same as raised about the man who is killed on his way to be baptized. Neither question shows baptism or repentance to be non-essential. Our concern should not be with what God will do, but what we are told to tell the man who sins to do. The apostle John says “If any man sin, use the advocacy provided (2:1). The apostle no where says, “If any man sin – ignorantly or through weakness – don’t worry about it, for the blood of Christ constantly cleanses the Christian,” as some now contend.
The Holy Spirit says, “Be ye angry and sin not. . . ” (Eph. 4:26). Why “sin not”? Obviously, because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Today, some are saying “be angry and sin . . even curse . . and don’t worry for if you die before realizing what you have done or repent, your sin is covered by the blood of Christ.”
Brethren, the apostle John does not list the exceptions of ignorance and human weakness along with the “ifs” (conditions) of confidence. The conditions for Christian confidence are as clearly stated as the conditions for the alien’s remission of sins. Men ought not to teach confidence on anything less than what is divinely revealed. Any confidence given, based upon human wisdom and emotions, would be false.
Let us not falter because of the conditions of confidence, but humbly submit to every one of them, and give thanks to God that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” and are assured, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins . . . .” Such teaching is not a “no confidence” doctrine, but that which gives true confidence.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 3, pp. 71-72
February 2, 1984