The Emperor has no clothes on! The Emperor's New Clothes is a Danish fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1837. The story goes like this:
There once lived a King who cared excessively about fine clothes. He loved to show them off whenever he could. One day he heard from two men who were swindlers in disguise. They claimed that they could make the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth ever seen. This cloth, they said, also had a special quality about it: it was invisible to anyone who was either stupid or unfit for his position.
It occurred to the King that he himself might not be able to see the cloth. And if he couldn’t see it, he would be declaring to all that he was unfit to be King. So the King first sent two of his most loyal and trusted men to see it. Of course, since neither of them wanted to admit that he could not see the cloth. That would be an admission that they were either stupid or unfit to be the King’s loyal servants. So they both praised it.
All of the townspeople by this time had also heard of this amazing cloth and were interested in discovering how stupid their neighbors were. They were not concerned about themselves of course. (Their response seems wildly similar to the concept of “fruit-checking” today. But I digress.)
The King then allowed himself to be dressed in the clothes for a procession through town. He never admitted that he too could not see the cloth. Not wanting to be seen as stupid or unfit for the throne, he went along with the swindlers’ charade.
Of course, all the King’s subjects wildly praised the magnificent clothes, being too embarrassed to admit that they could not see them.
Finally, during the procession through town a small child said: "But he has nothing on!"
The child’s innocent observation was whispered from person to person until everyone in the crowd was shouting that the emperor had nothing on. The King, of course, heard the shouts and now intuitively knew that they were true. But admitting to the deception would reveal his own stupidity and unfitness to rule his kingdom so he held his head high and finished the procession.
The expressions “the Emperor's new clothes” and “the Emperor has no clothes” are often used to refer to a situation in which the majority of observers willingly maintain a collective ignorance about facts that are all too obvious to the objective observer. And even many in this majority might individually recognize the absurdity of the position being promoted but out of fear for losing their standing among the rest keep silent.
Others have emphasized another point of Andersen’s tale: the idea that truth is often spoken by a person too naïve or too inexperienced to understand the power of group pressures within a given sub-culture. Until the sub-culture trains him to do so, he won’t hold convictions that are contrary to the facts that are so obvious before him.
In religious matters, some have called this “consensus theology.” That phrase simply observes that the conclusions, drawn by some who have distinguished themselves (either by their intellect, or their leadership, or in any number of other ways) are usually handed down without much debate from generation to generation. The conclusions themselves are no longer open to questioning; they must be followed. It is assumed that no better answer can be given. The meaning and purpose of forgiveness are examples of this phenomenon.
Everyone wants to be forgiven, but fewer want what forgiveness is intended to procure. Everyone wants fire insurance, but fewer want the Father’s involvement in their daily lives. Everyone wants to escape hell, but fewer want that escape to have anything to do with the way they live their lives now.
The window, or paradigm (which is another way of referring to the consensus theology of our own religious sub-culture), that we have been trained to look through in order to understand the Bible attaches forgiveness to a person’s eternal destiny. But, off the top of your head, can you marshal even one verse that actually says obtaining forgiveness secures one’s heavenly destiny? Now I’m asking for verses that don’t require a good amount of circuitous reasoning to get to that conclusion. They just say it explicitly and straight forwardly. I can’t. What I do find, and I find it everywhere I look, is the fact that forgiveness is connected to living life now. But being forgiven is never described as the guarantee of a heavenly destiny.
That theologically constructed windowpane, distorting the landscape as it must do, tells us that unless a person gets forgiveness for his sins, he has no hope of going to heaven when he dies. And the only way that forgiveness can be obtained is by believing in Jesus whose job it was to enter into the historical arena and die for the forgiveness of sins. Half-truths and truths mixed with error easily mislead and usually hold the misled captive, sometimes for the entire duration of their lives.
The need to obtain forgiveness in order to go to heaven cannot be found anywhere in the Scriptures. Does that surprise you? Oh, Jesus did come to die for our sins. And yes, He offered Himself as a propitiation for man’s sins. The Scriptures are clear on those matters. But it is eisegetical to connect forgiveness to the obtainment of heaven. Obtaining heaven is not a matter of grace alone. Nor is it gained by believing in Jesus (whether alone or with lots of other doctrines regardless of whether they are rightly constructed or not). You see, while salvation is a matter of grace obtained through faith apart from works, salvation is unrelated to gaining heaven or escaping hell.
And the forgiveness that a person needs after he believes in Jesus brings him back into fellowship with God after he has chosen to remove himself from the light where fellowship with God takes place and to sin. Forgiveness was designed to procure a reconciliatory relationship with God. If you don’t want that fellowship now, don’t expect to have it offered to you freely when you stand before Jesus in heaven.
The message that we’ve been taught finds little support in the Scriptures. Are we going to continue to hold to it even when the facts that support such a view of forgiveness are unconvincing? Are we going to be like the majority in the crowd viewing the King’s new clothes or like the little boy? When you stand before Jesus it will be too late. So, don’t be caught with your pants down. Or much worse, don’t’ be like the King who had no clothes on at all, who knew he had no clothes on, but was too proud to admit it!
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