By Cecil Willis
Inasmuch as some of our brethren have begun to advocate “unconditional grace,” at least for certain sins of Christians, it might therefore be helpful if we pause again to discuss the characteristics of God which made necessary the death of Christ, and made provision for the “word of his grace” (Acts 20:32). There are some brethren who now are teaching that Christians somehow can receive forgiveness of “sins of ignorance,” and “sins that result from the weakness of the flesh” without meeting the terms of what has been called “God’s Second Law of Pardon.” These brethren simply mean that a Christian can be saved in spite of his guilt of certain sins, and without obeying God’s law of forgiveness which entails repentance, confession, and prayer. Through this means, some of our brethren are maintaining that one can be saved, even though he may have died “with sin on his soul.”
These brethren have made up their own category of sins, much like the Catholics have their “mortal” and “venial” sins. Some of our brethren therefore are concluding that if men are ignorant of the fact that institutionalism and instrumental music in worship are sinful (and hence they have neither repented of these sins, nor confessed them), they nonetheless will be admitted into heaven in spite of the fact that they died with these sins “on their soul.” What these brethren have not yet spelled out explicitly for us, but which is the inevitable consequence of their position, is that these people who die with these “sins on their soul” are going to be saved in spite of their guilt of these sins. It therefore follows that if such sinners can still have fellowship with God, both now and eternally, then they certainly should be kept in our fellowship here on earth. Brethren: Do not ever forget that this is what all this theological maneuvering is about! This is why we are hearing so much about “sins of ignorance,” and “sins that result from the weakness of the flesh,” and then the “imputation of the perfect righteousness” of Christ is introduced. These brethren, who are either deluded or deceiving, have not been forced to state explicitly publicly that what they are getting at is that we should be fellowshiping the liberal brethren and certain ones in the Christian Church. But this is the inherent implication of their position, and I predict will eventually be the overt pronouncements which they will draw from these minute theological differentiations which they are making.
Such brethren do the nature of God no credit. Perhaps it is done without knowing it (maybe theirs is a “sin of ignorance”), but they have most severely reflected upon the character of God. They have indicted both His holiness and His justice, as we shall later show.
God’s attributes are those inherent qualities which make God to be God. The Bible in many places speaks of the importance of us knowing God (Ps. 100:3; Heb. 8:11; 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 10:30). Very protracted lessons could be given on the characteristics of God. However, it is not my intention now to deal with all the characteristics of God which are revealed in His Word. There are some things that can be learned about God from observing His creation (Ps. 19:1, 2; Rom. 1:20), but Paul says those traits learned from nature are limited to “his everlasting power and divinity.” The Psalmist said we can learn of the “glory” of God from observing the heavens. However, Jesus taught that the person (i.e., His characteristics) and His will can only be learned by revelation through Christ (Matt. 11:27). But when we learn of God’s characteristics from His revelation, we then will be able to understand why Christ died for our sins, and why God cannot wink at sin or pass-by unforgiven sins. The affirmation that He can do either constitutes a very serious reflection upon His infinite holiness and justice.
The Bible speaks of the infinite holiness of God (Ps. 111:9; Isa. 6:1-3; Rev. 4:7, 8). Man is commanded to be holy, even as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15; Lev. 11:44). We may speak of holy men, but we only speak of man’s relative holiness. But God is perfect; in Him is no sin at all (Ps. 18:30; Matt. 5:48). In fact, God’s holiness is such that if He sinned, He would not be God! Sinlessness is a part of the definition of Jehovah. Paul said that God “cannot lie” (Tit. 1:1, 2). The Lord Jesus Christ is the only person in the flesh who ever lived without sin (Heb. 4:14, 15; 1 Pet. 2:21, 22). Since Jesus lived a perfect life, some of our brethren have concluded that His perfect righteousness will be credited to our account. Implicit in this position being advocated by some of our brethren is the rankest form of Calvinistic “election” (partiality). The perfect life of Christ was that which qualified Him to be a perfect sacrifice for sin. The priests of the Old Testament had to offer sacrifices first for their own sins, and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus was “holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners” (Heb. 7:26). If our Lord had not lived a sinless life, He would not have been qualified to die for our sins. Instead, He would have deserved to die for His own sins. The grounds of our forgiveness is the appropriation of that which He accomplished in His death. His perfect life merely qualified Him as a perfect sacrifice.
A profound thought inheres in the statement that God is infinitely holy. It implies that God is the standard of holiness, truth, beauty, etc. The thought of the infinite holiness of God causes one to reflect upon one of the profoundest thoughts that legitimately may be called philosophical. If God is not the standard of holiness, would you mind telling me what is? If God is not the standard of holiness, then there must be some standard external to Him. On occasions I have heard even brethren ask some questions that made me cringe. On many occasions, I have heard brethren say, “But how could an infinitely holy God do a thing like this?” Such a question implies that there is some standard of holiness external to God, and to which even He must conform. If there is, will somebody please tell me what it is?
Plato had in his philosophical system a “World of Ideas” which was above his god which he called the Demiurge. I sometimes have felt that some brethren may have borrowed this concept from the Greeks. For perhaps twenty years, I have been unable to “buy” the differentiation that some brethren make between “moral” and “positive” law, which differentiation was evidently lifted from Brother Benjamin Franklin. No doubt he borrowed it from some other source. When brethren talk about “moral” and “positive” law, they usually state that “positive” law becomes law simply because God has commanded it. But they tell us that “moral” law has always been right. What made it right? Who made it right? Is not “moral law” law simply because it comports to God’s infinite holiness? And are not violations of this “moral law” sin simply because they violate and contradict God’s infinite holiness?
Some atheists are “moral” in spite of their atheism. There is absolutely nothing in atheism that will make a man moral. Moral atheists have borrowed their standard of morality, whether they wish to acknowledge it or not. Why should one not steal? Why should one not kill? Why should one not commit adultery? Many rationalizations may be given, but all of these questions have but one answer: Man should not kill, steal, or commit adultery simply because God said not to do these things. The truth of the matter is that one cannot even meaningfully use the word “ought” without implying God. This “oughtness” is what man has termed “ethics.” The philosophers call it the “categorical imperative,” or the “divine imperative.” God’s will ought to be obeyed because God is God, the eternal and infinite standard of holiness.
But the tragedy in man’s history is that he violated God’s infinite holiness; man violated God’s will. From the Garden of Eden down to this moment, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only accountable being who ever lived on earth completely without sin. Paul concluded in Romans 3, “we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin” (3:9). Man has violated God’s holiness. But God’s holiness is such that sin cannot be tolerated in His presence. Thus Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden and cut off from the presence of God. Sin separates man from God (Isa. 59:1, 2). It is precisely for this reason, good brethren, that God cannot admit into His eternal presence those who “die with sin on their soul,” and it matters not whether these sins are “sins of ignorance,” or “sins that result from the weakness of the flesh.” And our brethren need to be made to see that they have compromised God’s eternal and infinite holiness by advocating that He will accept into His presence persons who “die with sin on their soul.” If He will, why did He banish Adam and Eve from His presence? If some brethren could be caused to see this point, it would stop some of the theological contortions through which some are going in their effort to get some who “die with sin on their soul” saved, even though they do not repent, confess, and pray . . . even though they do not comply with God’s “Second Law of Pardon.”
God’s holiness having been violated, God’s justice demanded that these violators be punished. The Bible states that “Jehovah is a God of justice” (Isa. 30:18). Indeed, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of thy throne” (Ps. 89:14). But what is “justice”? Isn’t it a little uncanny the way we bandy words about, and assume that we all understand them . . . until some fellow stops us and asks us to give a definition of the word we have used? Take the word, “justice.” What does that mean? The courts of law may take a good while in order to give a comprehensive definition of that word. But it did not take the apostle Paul very long to define “justice.” While discussing the “righteous judgment of God,” Paul said that He “will render to every man according to his work” (Rom. 2:5, 6). To the faithful who have been redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb, God will render “eternal life.” But to those who “obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness,” God will render “wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish” (Rom. 2:7-9).
Just as God is infinitely holy, so also is He infinitely just. God will “bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecc. 12:13). Sir William Blackstone is sometimes referred to as the “Father of English Law.” Blackstone said that where there is no penalty attached for the violation of the law, there is neither respect for the law, nor for the law-giver. Parents, you had better copy that down for future and frequent reference. Every time a parent permits flagrant disregard of his law, he not only is causing his child to disrespect his law, but the child likewise will disrespect the law-giver, who in this case is the parent. The failure to extract punishment when law is disregarded is basically what causes what we may call the ills of our society. Failure to punish those who disobey law is what causes chaos in our streets, disorder in our schools, defiance in our homes, and corruption in the church.
God’s law had been violated. The penalty stated was “thou shalt die” (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23). Until the death of Christ, the full penalty for sin had not been paid, for there was no adequate sin-offering. The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin (Heb. 10:1-4), and God could not indefinitely “wink-at” or overlook sin. Something more had to be done, or else man was hopelessly and eternally ruined. God’s justice demanded hell!
But God’s justice was tempered by His great mercy. “Justice and Mercy met and kissed in the death of Jesus.” God was rich in mercy and love (Eph. 2:4). But God’s characteristics cannot work against themselves. God cannot violate His own character. Though great in love and rich in mercy, this love and mercy would not permit those who had defiled His holiness to escape His justice. The unalterable character of God is seen in His answer to the plaintive cry of Jesus as He contemplated the cross, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). But God’s nature was such that His saving mercy could not be extended to fallen man unless the penalty was paid for man’s sin. Thus Jesus became a “propitiation” (1 Jno. 2:1, 2), a “ransom” (1 Tim. 2:5, 6) for our sins.
But God’s saving grace was not unconditionally extended. There were some terms that had to be met by man. These conditions are revealed in the gospel. But we must remember that there are not only conditions to be met by the alien sinner, but there also are conditions to be met by the Christian who has sinned. Those of our brethren who would step-forth and extend God’s mercy and His clemency beyond that which He has promised had better be careful, lest they put themselves “in the place of God” (Gen. 50:19; 2 Thess. 2:1-4). The person who has not obeyed the gospel is lost, not just because he did not obey the gospel, but because he has sinned, and God’s justice will not permit Him to overlook sin. The Christian who sins, but who does not repent, confess, and pray, is lost, not just because he has not repented, confessed, and prayed, but because he has sinned! And God’s justice could not over-look sin. If it could have, then God would have let the cup of suffering pass from Jesus. But because of God’s violated holiness, and God’s justice demanding hell, God’s great mercy provided His Son, a Perfect Sacrifice for man’s sins. Thus, with the joy of man’s salvation in view, Jesus endured the cross, and despised (set at nought) the shame (Heb. 12:1, 2).
Why Did Christ Die?
The apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, addresses himself precisely to the answering of the question, “Why did Christ die?” Paul’s answer is found in Rom. 3:21-26. All had sinned (v. 23), so God “by his grace” (v. 24) sent forth Jesus “to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood” (v. 25) to show “his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime” (v. 25). God’s way of making a sinful man righteous again in His sight is revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:16, 17).
But precisely, “Why did Christ die?” Paul says it was for two reasons: “that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). But God’s justice would not permit Him to be the “justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus” without Jesus’ death on the cross. Remember: This is the conclusion of Paul in the Book of Romans, the book which is so badly being abused and misrepresented by some brethren who are frantically trying to figure someway to get a man saved who “dies with sin on his soul.” Without any intention to appear irreverent, let me suggest that when these brethren get this figured out, they should advise God on how they did it.
Man violated the holiness of God. God’s justice demanded Hell. But God’s mercy and love interceded and tempered His justice, and provided Heaven and the way of escape revealed in the gospel. God’s justice could not proffer forgiveness unconditionally, but some of the brethren can. If God can forgive unconditionally a Christian who “dies with sin on his soul,” would somebody please tell me why this same God could not unconditionally forgive an alien who “dies with sin on his soul”? Now if God un(‘011ditionally forgives one, but does not unconditionally forgive another, then God is a respecter of persons. But the Roman letter denies that. Paul said, “for there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom. 2:11).
If God’s nature will permit Him to accept a person who “dies with sin on his soul,” “then Christ died for nought” (Gal. 2:21). Men who seek to devise by theological maneuver some way for God to accept one who “dies with sin on his soul” actually are casting the most serious kind of reflection upon the infinite holiness, and the infinite justice of God, and they thereby vitiate the atoning death of Christ.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:26, p. 3-6
May 2, 1974