What if forgiveness operates in this life alone?

   April 18, 2017 by Dale

No one wants real accountability. I sure understand that. In fact, I’m one of those who don’t want it. And I suspect there are a lot of folks out there just like I am.

Most of us want the demands of accountability to work something like this: after we have acted in an inappropriate manner toward someone, we want to think that if we just say, “I’m sorry,” that our regret should cover all of the aspects of our own responsibility.

As a result, we should not have any other requirements of accountability placed upon us. We are “good-to-go,” so to speak. All must be forgiven. Fellowship should be restored. No further consequences ought to come upon us.

After all, our inappropriate response was just a passing thing. It was just a blip on the radar screen of life. We didn’t really mean it. And we certainly can’t see why anything more should be made of it.

We all want grace, and if not grace, at least mercy. But justice? Justice is certainly not called for!

And this same mindset constitutes the main reason we have believed in Jesus, right?

We were told that He bore all the punishment that was due us when He died on the cross. So if God’s justice is satisfied, we get to go free, don’t we?

Or, to say this in a different way: if we have been forgiven, how can there be any consequence from God for our sinning that could touch us?

Is salvation a guarantee from God that He would, without fail, get the person who believed in Jesus to heaven, and escape hell with the same certainty?

A teaching that usually accompanies that one is the belief of a secure, eternal destiny. This guaranteed heavenly destiny would not lead the “true” believer into a sinful lifestyle. I took my professors’ word on these matters, believing them without giving them much thought or testing these suppositions either Biblically or experientially.

The Scriptures are replete with verses that describe God’s requirement and desire that each man live a righteous life, dealing with his acquaintances with justice and with his God in humility (Mic. 6:8). Consequently, man should want to do what is right, at least the “true believer” should want to do this.

But experience teaches us something very different. Where there is no possible consequence for unrighteous living, there is no motivation strong enough for righteous living (cf., e.g., Ps. 10:11, 13). We will all act like Moses did when he killed the Egyptian in order to deliver his brother from his slave master: he looked this way and that way, but he didn’t look up! If he had, he would have known that God was watching and was not impressed with his actions even though his intentions may have been valid.

When I became a pastor, after being in the ministry for twenty-six years, I found a young man in the congregation who was having sex with another member of the congregation. He was able to convince her that their physical relationship was not a big deal since they could (and should) always confess their sin to God and He would forgive them according to 1John 1:9. This, I discovered from others in this congregation, had been a generally accepted teaching of this particular group ever since the church had been founded, and was applicable to any particular sin or habitual, sinful lifestyle,. When I was called by the elder board to the church, he left the church because he was told that the incoming pastor did not share this view on confession.

I’ve come across others, not in this particular church tradition, who shared the same conviction about lifestyle choices. If Jesus paid it all, and if we are forgiven of all our sins (past, present, and future), and if we can’t be judged for any of it when we stand before God in the Judgment, no compelling reason exists for some to live righteously.

This is a very simple matter indeed if we allow experience to come alongside of our Biblical exposition. The doctrine of forgiveness that teaches Christ bore all the penalties for all of the believer’s sins does, indeed, promote a sinful lifestyle. And if we wanted to be complete we could add the two doctrines of assurance of salvation (i.e., going to heaven for sure), and of eternal security (i.e., the impossibility of losing heaven regardless of what you do) to the list of teachings that promote sin.  

For myself, I’ve finally come to the point of realizing the futility of arguing against the obvious here. Guarantee a person no consequences to follow his actions, and he will sin more than if he had been given no such guarantee. It is true of children; it is true of thieves and murderers; it is true of preachers and priests alike. We see this truth blaring at us through the experiences of life. We don’t receive this truth though because we want the promise of heaven to be true more than we want to admit the danger in such an unfounded, Biblical doctrine.

But, deep down, when we aren’t talking about the doctrine of forgiveness, assurance of salvation (i.e., heaven) and eternal security (the impossibility of losing heaven) directly, everybody knows that such a future guarantee leads to problem choices of living.  They know it does exactly this because each person who wants to believe in these doctrines has to insert caveats into his belief system to keep such a lifestyle from occurring (e.g., the required perseverance of the saints). Everyone has to explain the believer in Jesus who turns away because Solomon in the OT demonstrates that not all believers persevere in their faith, and because the rocky soil in Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Soils and Judas, the apostle of Jesus, do the same thing in the NT. Rather than the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints being true, it is proven false everyday as persons, who are known by their closest friends to be “true” Christians, do dastardly deeds and sometimes never come back in repentance. We are all very good at judging others, but we aren’t very good at loving others.

The truth is forgiveness doesn’t have anything to do with heaven or hell. Yep! You heard that right. Forgiveness is not a safety net for anyone, including the person who comes to faith in Jesus late in his life. You will not find forgiveness connected to going to heaven or to escaping hell in the Scriptures. We make this connection because we think the Bible is talking about issues that it really isn’t addressing at all. If we walk with God now, we will discover that everything will be fine when we are finally judged by God. But supposing that our belief in Jesus is a get-out-of-hell-free card will prove to be invalid when we have to give an account for how we lived our lives upon the earth (e.g., 2Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10-12). Our fall will be great, but it won’t be Jesus’ fault because He provided all that we needed to live a life of godliness throughout our earthly lives. It will be our fault alone that we didn’t use those resources to bring Him glory and receive blessings while on earth and at the Judgment Seat of God. 

Comments (2)

  • Susan Lumen

    April 18, 2017 at 04:50 pm

    After 40 plus years of struggling to make sense out of what I was taught the Bible and the words of Jesus and God were teaching, I was still confused. After reading "Damn Shame"(almost finished) and the blogs the fog is lifting and peace and joy are returning. Keep up the good work of clearing up our understanding and removing confusion. Thank you, Dale.
    Susan Lumen


    • Dale

      April 18, 2017 at 06:00 pm

      Thank you, Susan. This journey is really an exciting adventure. I hope you are finding it that as I am. God bless.


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