By Mike Willis
The problem of sin will always remain with us so long as we are abiding in the flesh. None of us will reach a state of perfection; we can never live absolutely without and above sin. John stated, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us . . . . If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8, 10).
In our systems of thought, each of us must come to grips with this problem of sin. I think that it might be useful to our study to analyze some of the methods which people have used in dealing with the problem of daily sins. Perhaps this will help us to deal with the problem among ourselves. Certainly it is true that some erring brethren are appealing to the problem of sin in every Christian’s day-today life to justify fellowshipping those who have departed from the faith with reference to using mechanical instruments of music, church support of human institutions, and church sponsored recreation, among other things. These brethren argue that because we are not perfect, we should not expect our brethren to be perfect. Therefore, since we have sins and maintain fellowship with God, we should be willing to admit the same with these brethren.
Obvious from this argument is the problem of dealing with day-to-day sin in formulating some system of thought relevant to the subject of fellowship. Hence, I will mention the alternatives for dealing with day-to-day sin so far as I am aware of them and let us see their respective weak and strong points.
The Calvinists’ Method of Handling Daily Sin
One method of handling day-to-day sins known to be preached among denominationalists is that of the Calvinist.- The Calvinist believes in the perseverance of the saints (once saved, always saved). Hence, he does not believe that the sins which an individual commits on a day-to-day basis in any way separate that man from God. Rather, he believes that because a man is one of God’s elect, he can never fall from grace. Here is how the Philadelphia Confession of Faith (1742), one of the most popular confessions adopted by Baptists, expressed this belief:
XVII. OF THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS – I. Those whom God hash accepted in the Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end and be eternally saved, seeing the gifts and callings of God are without repentance (whence he still begets and nourisheth in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the spirits to immortality), and, though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon, notwithstanding, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of the light and love of God may, for a time, be clouded and obscured from them, yet it is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraven upon his hands, and their names having been written in the book of Life from all eternity.
2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God, and Father, upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him, the oath of God, the abiding of his Spirit, and seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
The theological justification for believing that God will save the believer in spite of his sins is the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ to the believer’s account. Here is how Calvinists express this relationship:
I reply that `accepting grace,’ as they call it, is nothing else than his free goodness, with which the Father embraces us in Christ when he clothes us with the innocence of Christ and accepts it as ours that by the benefit of it he may hold us as holy, pure, and innocent. For Christ’s righteousness, which as it alone is perfect alone can bear the sight of God, must appear in court on our behalf, and stand surety in judgement. Furnished with this righteousness, we obtain continual forgiveness of sins in faith. Covered with this purity, the sordidness and uncleanness of our imperfection are not ascribed to us but are hidden as if buried that they may not come into God’s judgment, until the hour arrives when, the old man slain and clearly destroyed in us, the divine goodness will receive us into blessed peace with the new Adam (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XIV, No. 12).
Notice that Calvin argues just exactly as I stated. He stated that the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ was the reason why saints do not fall from grace. As a matter of fact, his statement resembles that which some of my brethren are writing today. Let us consider other statements from the Institutes.
Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (Book III, Chapter XI, No. 2).
. . . It is quite clear that Paul means exactly the same thing in another statement, which he had put a little before: `As we were made sinners by one man’s disobedience, so we have been justified by one man obedience’ (Rom. 5:19p.). To declare that by him alone we are accounted righteous, what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ’s obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own? (Book III, Chapter XI, No. 23).
Imputed Righteousness. For Christ took upon himself and bore the sins of the world, and satisfied divine justice. Therefore, solely on account of Christ’s sufferings and resurrection God is propitious with respect to our sins and does not impute them to us, but imputes Christ’s righteousness to us as our own (II Cor. 5:19ff; Rom. 4:25), so that now we are not only cleansed and purged from sins or are holy, but also, granted the righteousness of Christ, and so absolved from sin, death and condemnation, are at last righteous and heirs of eternal life. Properly speaking, therefore, God alone justifies, and justifies only on account of Christ, not imputing sins to us but imputing his righteousness to us (5.108).
1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justified: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteousness; not for any things wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves: it is the gift of God (6.060).
This, my brethren, is one method which has been used to deal with the problem of one’s sins which he commits day by day. Let us consider its relative advantages and disadvantages:
1. Advantages: It gives a man a sense of security. I say this with some reservation; in order to be one of the persons who persevere unto the end, whose sins are automatically covered by the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. a person must be one of God’s elect. No one can state assuredly that he is one of God’s elect individuals. Hence, an assurance would be present, provided that one were guaranteed that he was one of God’s elect.
Indeed, the whole system of Calvinism is designed for making man in no way involved in his own salvation; they make salvation totally the work of God. Hence, the elect are in no way responsible for meeting any conditions in order to be or stay saved.
2. Disadvantages: (a) Sin is overlooked by God. This whole concept of God’s attitude toward sin is devastating to a proper doctrine of God; it destroys His holiness. It affirms that God has absolutely willed to save certain individuals without having regard to righteousness and obedience. Hence, God loves such men far more than righteousness because He will save them while they are yet refusing to obey Him. Arminius recognized this weakness in Calvinism; he wrote as follows:
The great influence and potency which this consideration possesses in subverting the foundation of religion, may be appropriately described by the following simile: Suppose a son to say, “My father is such a great lover of righteousness and equity, that, notwithstanding I am his beloved son, he would disinherit me if I were found disobedient to him. Obedience, therefore, is a duty which I must sedulously cultivate, and which is highly incumbent upon me, if I wish to be his heir.” Suppose another son to say: “My father’s love for me is so great, that he is absolutely resolved to make me his heir. There is, therefore, no necessity for my earnestly striving to yield him obedience; for; according to his unchangeable will, t shall become his heir. Nay, he will be an irresistible force draw me to obey him, rather than no; suffer me to be made his heir (James Nichols and W.R. Bagnatl, The Writings of James Arminius, Volume One, p. 233).
Hence, this system is weak because it makes God guilty of overlooking sin in His saints which is contrary to His holiness.
To illustrate the extent to which this doctrine goes in overlooking sin, as the legitimate conclusion of the premises of Calvinism, consider this statement by Sam Morris:
We take the position that a Christian’s sins do not damn his soul. The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people have nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul . . .
. . . All the prayers a man may pray, all the Bibles he may read, all the churches he may belong to, all the services he may attend, all the sermons he may practice, all the debts he may pay, all the ordinances he may observe, all the laws he may keep, all the benevolent acts he may perform will not make his soul one whit safer; and all the sins he may commit from idolatry to murder will not make his soul in any more danger (Rev. Sam Morris, “Do A Christian’s Sins Damn His Soul?”).
This position of unconditional forgiveness, if it were true, would indeed grant a man a certain amount of assurance of salvation which is not available to a person who believes what I believe. However, it taints the fountainhead of all religious dogma – the idea that God is holy.
(b) Destroys a need for repentance. The second disadvantage of this system of handling one’s day-to-day sins is that it destroys any basis for admonishing a brother to repent. When I approach a man who is involved in sin, I admonish him to repent lest he perish in eternal Hell for his wickedness. The man who accepts Calvinism is not able to do so; he cannot explain to the erring child of God that his sins will damn his soul because, according to him, they will not.
(c) It is contrary to everything the Bible teaches regarding conditional salvation. God’s grace in the Bible, is extended to man conditionally. The alien sinner and the child of God receive the benefits of God’s grace upon their obedience to the commandments of God. However, in the system known as Calvinism, this is not so. The man is saved unconditionally. This is contrary to hundreds of Scriptures in the Bible.
I am saddened by the news that several brethren among us have decided to accept the Calvinist doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account as a means of dealing with the day-to-day sins which we commit. Their doctrine will logically lead them to the Calvinistic doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” None of my brethren are willing to state that categorically. However, they are willing to state that a child of God who, in a moment of weakness, becomes involved in adultery and dies in the act of committing adultery could still go to heaven. There is not a hair’s breath between the Calvinistic doctrine and the perseverance of the saints and what is expressed by these brethren.
Yet, one must admit that this is one of the theological methods which men have used to deal with the problem of day-to-day sin. I personally reject it anal call it damnable heresy, although some among us state chat it is the very essence of Christianity. (Continued next week).
Truth Magazine XXIII: 32, pp. 515-517
August 16, 1979