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Posts Tagged ‘Forgiveness’

Do you ever wonder what people think about you? If they like you, or dislike you? If they’re mad at you, or happy with you? And sometimes we don’t have an indicator about these things and we are left uncertain and uneasy. If only we had a glimpse, maybe a smile, or a laugh. Or even better, a pleasant word.

Often times I can remember wondering what God really thought about me. Was he pleased with me? What would he say if I got a chance to talk to him? Oh, if only I could get some reassurance that he wasn’t upset with me, that I was doing okay, that he still approved of me.

I can also remember vividly thinking of how lucky the disciples were for this reason. They got to walk and talk with God every day. They could’ve asked him anything they wanted. If there was ever a pressing issue on their minds or a decision they needed to make, the Lord of the universe was at hand saying things like, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28). Sometimes I would wonder, Did those disciples have any idea how lucky they were?

Another character in the Bible is Jacob. He actually got to talk with God face to face — more than that, he even wrestled with God! That’s when Jacob said to the Lord, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And we can read in the account that the Lord then gave Jacob a new name and blessed him. What is interesting is how Jacob responds after this. We read, “So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Gen. 32:20).

Can you imagine? Getting to talk to God (let alone wrestle him) and then walking away thinking, “Not only did he not destroy me, he even blessed me! God just blessed me! That means he’s not mad at me. The greatest person in all the world, whose opinion about me means more than anything, just smiled upon me and declared his favor toward me. That means I’m not going to die. That means I’m going to live!” Although we can only tell a little from the narrative, it seems fair to assume that Jacob must have been beside himself with joy.

Luther comments on this passage,

Jacob was comforted by showers of blessings from God. he also received the benefits of the blessings that were given to his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham. Nevertheless, he struggled with his weaknesses. You should say to yourself, “I am not alone when I’m afraid of God’s anger, when I wonder if God has chosen me, and when I worry about losing my faith. I am not alone!” All believers–every believer past and present who has ever believed in God’s son–experiences the same struggle. God uses these experiences to refine us. Eventually, like Jacob, you’ll be able to stand up and joyfully proclaim, “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Unlike Jacob, we don’t get to talk face to face with our Lord, let a lone wrestle with him. No, we’re left far away with seemingly so little to go on.

Wait a minute. Are we? When we hear God speak to us in his word; when we read of his promise of forgiveness and life everlasting; are we really left so alone and in the dark? When we hear the declaration of pardon every Lord’s day; when we see our baby brothers and sisters receiving the sign and seal of the covenant in baptism; when we taste the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper; do we really have so little to go on? When we hear Christ’s words,

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

Are we really left with so little to go on? Oh, my friends, I think not. For all of these are Christ’s word to us. He has given us a new name and blessed us. Here, we are at a better place than even the disciples. For they could talk to Christ when he was on Earth. But he didn’t disclose nor explain everything to them. For he said it would be too much for them. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. And Jacob, he may have been beside himself that the Angel of the Lord did not destroy him, but oh how we have even a greater word, a clearer promise, and the surest blessings as he ever received — eternal blessings in the heavenly realms, where we are seated presently with Jesus Christ.

What does that mean? Well, that means God is not mad at us! That means we’re going to live. That means we’re going to live forever!

Brothers and sisters, if you hear the word of Christ, his promise of eternal life, the forgiveness of your sins, and everlasting righteousness; If you have believed that word, if you are trusting only on that promise to save you, a poor miserable sinner, and you are not banking on any of your merit, works, or righteousness; then you can be comforted and assured that God is not mad at you. Instead of God coming face to face and seeing your ugly sins, he comes face to face and sees Christ’s beautiful obedience. Just like Esther who was robed in royal gowns so that her King found her pleasing in his eyes and adored her, so we also have found favor in God’s sight because of the righteous robes of Christ.

We don’t have to wonder what God thinks of us. We don’t have to worry whether he is mad, or upset with us. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is well pleased with his son Jesus. And we are in his son. Thus we, too, are safe.

Yes, we can be sure that God smiles upon us. He has given us his word.

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How can God have mercy on us sinful wretches? The story of David and his sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, and most of all God (2 Sam 11-12), tells us of how God’s mercy extends further than we could have imagined.  This was adultery and murder — not something God could just “wink” at. In fact, God cannot wink at any sin. However, in the Mosaic system God had set up a system of sacrifice that allowed for the forgiveness of various sins. Thus, people would bring a sacrificial animal for this purpose. But what is most interesting and important for us in this story is that not every kind of sin was forgivable in the Mosaic system. Adultery and premeditated murder, in this case, had no sacrifice for sin.

In 1 Sam 12, Nathan the prophet comes along and tells David the parable about a certain man and his beloved little lamb. And then he explains how this lamb was stolen from his master and killed by an evil neighbor. Upon hearing all this, David pronounces judgment: “That man deserves to die.”

“You are the man,” says Nathan. The prophet then declares everything God had done for David and yet how David had despised the word of the LORD and done what is evil in his sight. And when David hears this, he confesses. “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan replies, “God has taken away your sin, you are not going to die.” What? How could he say that? There would still be consequences for David. But he had received forgiveness. How could this be?

As mentioned before, in the Mosaic system, there was no sacrifice for adultery, no sacrifice for murder. In short, there was no way of dealing with this extent of pollution. There was really no way for David to be forgiven, nothing that would allow him to be right before. Within the Mosaic system, David was a dead man. The King of Israel, the people of God, stood condemned — accountable to die. And yet God declares that he is forgiven. What is this? This was clearly a ‘new mercy’, a new kind of forgiveness. In Psalm 51, we read there was no “desire for sacrifice.” And indeed, for there was no sacrifice to bring.

God was going above and beyond what had been demonstrated before. This was not a mercy that was shown to Eli and his house, or to Saul and his house. This was something new — and amazing. And thus David could say, “Blessed is the man whom the LORD does not impute iniquity” (Ps. 32.2) and Paul :

…just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin (Rom. 4:6-8).

God was slowly revealing himself and the great extent of his love for us. Here is a mercy greater than which could never be conceived! Such was God’s love for David (and all the elect) that he would see to it that there would be a way of forgiveness. And at the proper time, God sent his only begotten Son to become the lamb who would be slain for the forgiveness of all our sins.

Oh how great is the love and mercy of God.  And yet we see how God slowly reveals himself overtime, through redemptive history. This is the God we worship — one who reveals himself in stories like this.

— (This was adapted from a lecture by Joshua Van Ee in Historical Books, Spring 2011)

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I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake (1 John 2:12 ESV).

Can we ever emphasize the forgiveness of sins too much?

Some might think we can. The concern is that by focussing too much on the cross, we won’t be able to move on to things which pertain to our ‘new life’ in Christ. Such a continual emphasis on the sin-atoning, wrath-turning, law-satisfying, penalty-paying, work of Christ is thought to short-circut the very life it intends to bring about. If we’re always thinking of the “Lamb who was slain”, will we not overlook the Son in resurrected and ascended glory?

But what I believe this concern overlooks is the sad but true fact that we ever remain painfully sinful in this life. For this reason, we can never ‘move past’ our need for the cross. We must ever come back to that fount of every blessing.  As long as we trudge this pilgrim land, all right worship of God will naturally flow from our continual forgiveness and assurance of pardon at the foot of the cross. In fact, it is every practice which assumes the contrary, that in the end, will circumvent sanctification.

Only by continually beginning, and returning, to the cross will the ‘new life’ and sanctity which we so desire take solid root. For there is no other way to relate to God, except through the perfect work (life, death, and resurrection) of Christ.  In fact, God’s grace-mercy-favor rests upon us for this reason and this reason alone–even the merits of Christ.

Similarly, Calvin understood that faith, not works, must be that foundation for all of our confidence before God. Faith, not works, is that wellspring from which every other saving grace flows. Unlike many who have attempted to mix faith and works as the ground or foundation of our confidence before God, we must rightly give the priority to faith alone. Justification must have the logical priority over sanctification. We must begin our hourly, daily, and weakly journey from our gracious entry point in the Sabboth rest of justification by faith alone. For it is the Lord who sanctifies us.

Calvin comments on 1 John 2:12:

…lest the preceding exhortation should obscure the free remission of sins, he [John] again inculcates the doctrine which peculiarly belongs to faith, in order that the foundation may with certainty be always retained, that salvation is laid up for us in Christ alone.

Holiness of life ought indeed to be urged, the fear of God ought to be carefully enjoined, men ought to be sharply goaded to repentance, newness of life, together with its fruits, ought to be commended; but still we ought ever to take heed, lest the doctrine of faith be smothered, — that doctrine which teaches that Christ is the only author of salvation and of all blessings; on the contrary, such moderation ought to be presented, that faith may ever retain its own primacy. This is the rule prescribed to us by John: having faithfully spoken of good works, lest he should seem to give them more importance than he ought to have done, he carefully calls us back to contemplate the grace of Christ.

Your sins are forgiven you Without this assurance, religion would not be otherwise than fading and shadowy; nay, they who pass by the free remission of sins, and dwell on other things, build without a foundation. John in the meantime intimates, that nothing is more suitable to stimulate men to fear God than when they are rightly taught what blessing Christ has brought to them, as Paul does, when he beseeches by the bowels of God’s mercies.

It hence appears how wicked is the calumny of the Papists, who pretend that the desire of doing what is right is frozen, when that is extolled which alone renders us obedient children to God. For the Apostle takes this as the ground of his exhortation, that we know that God is so benevolent to us as not to impute to us our sins.

For his name’s sake The material cause is mentioned, lest we should seek other means to reconcile us to God. For it would not be sufficient to know that God forgives us our sins, except we came directly to Christ, and to that price which he paid on the cross for us. And this ought the more to be observed, because we see that by the craft of Satan, and by the wicked fictions of men, this way is obstructed; for foolish men attempt to pacify God by various satisfactions, and devise innumerable kinds of expiations for the purpose of redeeming themselves. For as many means of deserving pardon we intrude on God, by so many obstacles are we prevented from approaching him. Hence John, not satisfied with stating simply the doctrine, that God remits to us our sins, expressly adds, that he is propitious to us from a regard to Christ, in order that he might exclude all other reasons. We also, that we may enjoy this blessing, must pass by and forget all other names, and rely only on the name of Christ. – Calvin’s Commentaries

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Also, there are very many who so conceive of God’s mercy that they receive almost no consolation from it. They are constrained with miserable anxiety at the same time as they are in doubt whether he will be merciful to them because they confine that very kindness of which they seem utterly persuaded within too narrow limits. For among themselves they ponder that it is indeed great and abundant, shed upon many, available and ready for all; but that it is uncertain whether it will even come to them, or rather, whether they will come to it….

Therefore, it does not so much strengthen the spirit in secure tranquility as trouble it with uneasy doubting. But there is a far different feeling of full assurance that in the Scriptures is always attributed to faith…there is no right faith except when we dare with tranquil hearts to stand in God’s sight. – Calvin, Institutes 3.2.15.

Here indeed is the chief hinge on which faith turns: that we do not regard the promises of mercy that God offers as true only outside ourselves, but not at all in us; rather that we make them ours by inwardly embracing them. Hence, at last is born that confidence which Paul elsewhere calls “peace” [Rom. 5:1],… Now it is an assurance that renders the conscience calm and peaceful before God’s judgment. Without it the conscience must be harried by disturbed alarm, and almost torn to pieces; unless perhaps, forgetting God and self, for the moment sleeps. And truly for the moment, for it does not long enjoy that miserable forgetfulness without the memory of divine judgment repeatedly coming back and very violently rending it…. the apostle does not consider the eyes of our minds well illumined, except as we discern what the hope of the eternal inheritance is to which we have been called [Eph. 1:18]. And everywhere he so teaches as to intimate that we cannot otherwise well comprehend the goodness of God unless we gather from it the fruit of great assurance. – Institutes, 3.2.16

Still, someone will say: ‘Believers experience something far different: In recognizing the grace of God toward themselves they are not only tried by disquiet, which often comes upon them, but they are repeatedly shaken by gravest terrors. For so violent are the temptations that trouble their minds as not to seem quite compatible with that certainty of faith.’ Accordingly,we shall have to solve this difficulty if we wish the above-stated doctrine to stand. Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. On the other hand, we say that believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief. Far, indeed, are we from putting their consciences in any peaceful repose, undisturbed by any tumult at all. Yet, once again, we deny that, in whatever way they are afflicted, they fall away and depart from the certain assurance received from God’s mercy. – Institutes 3.2.17

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John Calvin comments on the Parable of the publican and the need to continue to remember our inborn and ingrown sin and how far we are from the righteousness that God requires. Should this leave us feeling like miserable wretches? No, but this reminds us of the importance of the righteousness of Christ. It is only then that we can value the perfect active obedience of Jesus Christ that’s imputed to us by faith. Indeed, there’s no nope without it.

“…whatever proficiency any man may have made in the worship of God and in true holiness, yet if he consider how far he is still deficient, there is no other form of prayer which he can properly use than to begin with the acknowledgment of guilt; for though some are more, and others less, yet all are universally guilty. We cannot doubt, therefore, that Christ now lays down a rule for all to this effect, that God will not be pacified towards us, unless we distrust works, and pray that we may be freely reconciled.” – Commentary on Luke 14:18

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Over the last week I’ve been digging in more deeply to our understanding of baptism, particularly in light of covenant theology.  However, one of the issues that comes up is that of baptismal regeneration.  Of course, it is generally those who hold to a ‘higher’ (or more potent) view of the sacrament who are labeled with the term.  Lately (in Reformed circles) this issue has come up in response to the Federal Vision movement.  Some critics of the movement claim its proponents hold to some form of baptismal regeneration. Of course, this is generally denied.

Today, I was reading through Josh Moon’s defense of TE Lawrence (Siouxland Presbytery PCA). And in it I found much to think about. Moon argues that Lawrence’s position on baptism (and the benefits it confers) is well within the bounds of our Reformed tradition.  To support this claim he points to Calvin, Ursinus, Owen, Bavinck, Hodge and others. All these great men are then cited as affirming the basic idea that all who are baptized into Christ are indeed “Christians” — and at least should be considered as such by the Church. Now, does that sound all that controversial? Well, I suppose it depends on what one means by  “Christian.”

However, as Moon moved to the ‘Testimony of Scripture’ I think I would have some questions. He writes:

We are told by the complainants that you cannot attribute forgiveness of sins to the potential reprobate. But that is clearly wrong. The unmerciful servant, Jesus says, was “forgiven his debt.” He moved from a state of condemnation to true and real forgiveness. This was no pretended forgiveness. Yet the servant was finally apostate. He failed to live up to the grace shown to him, and so the privilege of that forgiveness was revoked. And that, Jesus says, is how my father will treat each of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. This, remember, is addressed to Peter and Christ’s own disciples. It is a parable about forgiveness and apostasy, and gives the complainants no ground at all for their complaint.

Moon claims that one can indeed have “real forgiveness” and yet, in the end, be damned. He says that this parable (found in the Gospel of Matthew ch 18:21-35) actually teaches about apostasy. My question is whether our Reformed theologians have understood this passage to be teaching what Moon believes it is.

On this passage (Mat 18) Calvin comments:

[I]t is foolish to inquire how God punishes (“how it is possible for God to punish”) those sins which he has already forgiven; for the simple meaning is this: though he offers mercy to all, yet severe creditors, from whom no forgiveness can be obtained, are unworthy of enjoying it.

So it seems Calvin wouldn’t go as far as Moon would in interpreting this parable.

Francis Turretin writes:

Although remission of sins ought to be applied often to daily sins, yet falsely would anyone thence gather that sins once discharged revive and return again by subsequent sins (as some of the Romanists hold), since it is a unchangeable gift of God. Nor does the parable of that ungrateful servant (…[Mt. 18]) prove this. It pertains to nothing else than to show that the remission of sins proposed conditionally does not belong to him in whom the condition is lacking. The design of the parable (which is to be regarded here simply) is no other than to teach that the mercy of God is not exercised towards the unmerciful; nor are sins pardoned by God, except to those who forgive the offenses of others. (Inst. 2.687)

Furthermore, one can read Matthew Henry on this passage who states:

We are not to suppose that God actually forgives men, and afterwards reckons their guilt to them to condemn them; but this latter part of the parable shows the false conclusions many draw as to their sins being pardoned, though their after-conduct shows that they never entered into the spirit, or experienced the sanctifying grace of the gospel.

All of these men interpret this passage in a particular way — and it appears — in a way at variances with Moon. Now, a little later Moon further writes:

We are told that the language of union with Christ cannot be attributed in any sense to the baptized indiscriminately – that it cannot be true for the reprobate. Yet John 15 and Romans 11 both use the language of being “in Christ”, which is union with Christ. And they use that language in speaking of those who might finally be (or have been) cut off. In both cases it is covenantal union in Christ that is then broken. And in both cases the possibility and the reality exist of apostasy. Paul in Romans 11 even speaks of those branches who are being “nourished by the root” who are then cut off.

But on these passages as well, I am curious as to whether our Reformed divines would have agreed with his interpretation. On Romans 11 Calvin writes:

Let us remember that in this comparison man is not compared with man, but nation with nation. (v. 16)

(v. 20: Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.) But it seems that he throws in a doubt as to salvation, since he reminds them to beware lest they also should not be spared. To this I answer, — that as this exhortation refers to the subduing of the flesh, which is ever insolent even in the children of God, he derogates nothing from the certainty of faith. And we must especially notice and remember what I have before said, — that Paul’s address is not so much to individuals as to the whole body of the Gentiles, among whom there might have been many, who were vainly inflated, professing rather than having faith. On account of these Paul threatens the Gentiles, not without reason, with excision…

And here again it appears more evident, that the discourse is addressed generally to the body of the Gentiles, for the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God. (v. 21)

But as he speaks not of the elect individually, but of the whole body, a condition is added, If they continued in his kindness I indeed allow, that as soon as any one abuses God’s goodness, he deserves to be deprived of the offered favor; but it would be improper to say of any one of the godly particularly, that God had mercy on him, when he chose him, provided he would continue in his mercy; for the perseverance of faith, which completes in us the effect of God’s grace, flows from election itself.

Otherwise thou also shalt be cut off, etc. We now understand in what sense Paul threatens them with excision, whom he has already allowed to have been grafted into the hope of life through God’s election. For, first, though this cannot happen to the elect, they have yet need of such warning, in order to subdue the pride of the flesh; which being really opposed to their salvation, ought justly to be terrified with the dread of perdition. As far then as Christians are illuminated by faith, they hear, for their assurance, that the calling of God is without repentance; but as far as they carry about them the flesh, which wantonly resists the grace of God, they are taught humility by this warning, “Take heed lest thou be cut off.” Secondly, we must bear in mind the solution which I have before mentioned, — that Paul speaks not here of the special election of individuals, but sets the Gentiles and Jews in opposition the one to the other; and that therefore the elect are not so much addressed in these words, as those who falsely gloried that they had obtained the place of the Jews: nay, he speaks to the Gentiles generally, and addresses the whole body in common, among whom there were many who were faithful, and those who were members of Christ in name only.

But if it be asked respecting individuals, “How any one could be cut off from the grafting, and how, after excision, he could be grafted again,” — bear in mind, that there are three modes of insition, and two modes of excision. For instance, the children of the faithful are ingrafted, to whom the promise belongs according to the covenant made with the fathers; ingrafted are also they who indeed receive the seed of the gospel, but it strikes no root, or it is choked before it brings any fruit; and thirdly, the elect are ingrafted, who are illuminated unto eternal life according to the immutable purpose of God. The first are cut off, when they refuse the promise given to their fathers, or do not receive it on account of their ingratitude; the second are cut off, when the seed is withered and destroyed; and as the danger of this impends over all, with regard to their own nature, it must be allowed that this warning which Paul gives belongs in a certain way to the faithful, lest they indulge themselves in the sloth of the flesh. But with regard to the present passage, it is enough for us to know, that the vengeance which God had executed on the Jews, is pronounced on the Gentiles, in case they become like them. (v. 21)

It seems abundantly clear that Calvin is not applying this passage to the elect in the same way as Moon, but deliberately makes a distinction: Some are in the covenant in a way different than others. Some can’t be ‘cutoff’.

On John 15 Calvin similarly won’t go where Moon goes:

(v. 6) Not that it ever happens that any one of the elect is dried up, but because there are many hypocrites who, in outward appearance, flourish and are green for a time, but who afterwards, when they ought to yield fruit, show the very opposite of that which the Lord expects and demands from his people.

To be fair, I am not saying that these interpretations are necessarily diametrically opposed or incompatible with each other (although maybe they are). However, there might be overlap. But, if so, it’s not clear. It seems there is at least a substantial differences between the way Calvin (and others) interpret these texts and how Moon and Lawrence do.

Now, I’ve met Pastor Moon, and have no ill feelings toward him at all. In fact, this December, I heard him preach on the ‘Preservation of the Saints’ which I thought was very good and which blessed me tremendously. However, I’m writing this because I find this language concerning, and frankly, contrary to what I have heretofore held to be correct.

Is there such a thing as ‘temporary forgiveness’? And if there is, is it based on ‘temporal justification’?  Is there any forgiveness without justification? Any forgiveness without atonement? Any atonement without the blood of Christ? And is there any blood of Christ spent on damned reprobates? May it never be.

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