Walled Cities: The Sin Question (Continued)
Forgiveness and Cleansing
BEFORE we leave the sin question we must look at the matter of forgiveness and cleansing, for there is much misunderstanding in the minds of believers on this point. Let us go to John's first letter and pick up a well-known formula of God's dealings with us on the matter of our sins.
First, John says we do sin. He admonishes us not to sin, just as the law tells us not to disobey God. But, knowing that we will sin, the Spirit, through John, tells us how to deal with it.
The first thing he tells us is not to deny that we sin; for, if we do, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (I John 1:8, 10). That settles that. Now, the next thing is to confess our sins. Notice now, he does not say to atone for sins; just confess them (verse 9). And, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse. us from all unrighteousness." John repeats for emphasis and clarity, then adds a further statement in the second chapter, first and second verses. "Sin not," he says, but, "if you do sin, remember that you have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
Now, this is what we mean when we say that we must keep on the ground of faith. What goes on down here in our hearts depends on what goes on up there at the throne
of God. The Spirit is down here in us, telling us to confess our sins. That is all we can do. But when we have done that, let us not despair; let us look up there and see what is taking place. We will at once discover that our Lawyer is up there at the throne handling our case for us, and that He Himself is the payment or sacrifice for our sins. Knowing that that is the end of sins up there, our faith transfers the blessing to our hearts, and we have peace here.
Is that too, easy? Well, how else can it be done? Who else can pay for sins but Jesus? And when He died for us we were all nineteen hundred years in the future; so, He died for all the sins we have committed and all we are going to commit. When we trusted Jesus to save us, we were put in the position of one who never sins - never will sin. That is what it means to be justified. Now, we are still sinners in experience, but we are put in the poition of Him who is holy, because He was put in our position on the cross. Thus the sin question, as to penalty, was settled forever for us. Now we are dealing with sins in our lives. They are all paid for and will never be charged against us, but they must be forgiven. And why? Now let my reader give close attention here.
Let us be sure we have the facts in mind. On God's book the believer is a dead sinner, through the death of Christ. Thus the sinner is pronounced dead. The death penalty squares every sin we have committed or will commit. You can kill a man only once, and that pays for all his crimes. So, the believer, on God's book, is a sinner who has died according to the law, and God is satisfied. He is reconciled. Thus, on God's book, the record shows that I, as a sinner, am dead, but as a believer I am alive, and both of these positions are put to my credit through Christ
who died and arose for me. On this my faith rests. God does not, therefore, charge any sin against me whatever (Romans 4:8). Yes, this is hard for the unspiritual mind to believe, but it is true. Then, if there is no sin charged against me, what is the necessity of forgiveness? What is there to forgive?
Forgiveness and cleansing have to do with the life of a child with its Father; it has nothing to do with a sinner and the law. The sinner has, by faith, died, and the law has been satisfied. God's wrath has been appeased and He is reconciled. Forgiveness and cleansing have to do with a believer in his walk and fellowship with his Father.
God never forgives a sinner until he becomes a believer. Forgiveness and cleansing are blessings that come to the believer because he is a child of God. They are not necessary to salvation; they are because of salvation. They do not bring eternal life; they are the blessings of eternal life. A sinner trusts Christ as Saviour - that is, he falls upon Christ as his only hope. His faith in Christ makes Christ his Saviour, and on this alone he is justified - put in the position of Christ. Now, God, "for Christ's sake," forgives and cleanses the believer. And that forgiveness and cleansing is an arrangement which is set up for a perpetual walk between God and His child.
And what is the purpose of this arrangement? To save? No! Jesus alone saves, and for His sake alone the Father forgives the child who has trusted Jesus. Forgiveness and cleansing are to bring about and promote fellowship between God and His child.
It is this fellowship about which John is writing. And fellowship is dependent on confession, forgiveness, and
cleansing. And fellowship has mainly two great objectives: (1) joy, and (2) fruitfulness.
In the parable of the vine and the branches John talks about abiding in Christ as the means of fruitfulness. This abiding is fellowship. "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7). And through that whole discussion he bears upon fruitfulness. Now, here in this first letter he is saying, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full" (I John 1:34).
So, fellowship produces joy and fruitfulness in the believer. Fellowship is dependent on forgiveness and cleansing of the believer, and these in turn are dependent on the believer's confession of sins. Thus, it is an arrangement of a walk between the Father and His child.
It would be well to pause here and ask what is the difference between forgiveness and cleansing. Let us give an illustration. My little boy is mine by birth. Nothing else made him mine except birth. That is once for all established, and cannot be altered by anything I do or anything he does or anything anybody else does. So that settles that. I do not have to do anything to keep him being my child, nor does he. He is, and stays, my child, because he was born my child.
But, I want fellowship with him. I like to take him in my lap and fondle him, and make us both happy. This fellowship is necessary both for him and for me, if we are to be happy together.
Now, sometimes he likes to play in the mud. Even if he does, he still is my child. But I tell him to keep out of the mud, because when he is muddy I can't take him in my lap and love him as I want to. He knows I don't want him to play in the mud, but still, occasionally, he likes to. So, his mother and I are getting ready for a little trip. We have dressed him up, and he is clean and smells good. Now, while we are dressing in our best, he goes off and gets in the mud. When I call, "Son, where art thou?" as God called for Adam, he comes to me with mud all over him. I remind him of my will about this and ask him why he did it. His eyes gather tears, and he sobs out that he is sorry.
Immediately that does something to my heart. He is helpless. Nothing he can do can change things now. He stands before me in confession of his "sin," and wishes he could keep out of the mud as I want him to do. Now watch. His attitude takes away the offence. That is forgiveness. I had to assume, when he was born, responsibility for all his sins and failures. I alone am responsible. He is helpless. But his attitude clears up the whole offence so that fellowship is restored between us. My heart goes out to him in love, for I can bear it and he can not. I am, therefore, his sin-bearer, and I say to that penitent, confessing little boy, "It's all right, Son. You'll do better as long as you feel that way."
He has confessed, the offence is gone, and he is forgiven, but, he is still dirty. I have on my "holy" clothes; I cannot take him in my arms. What shall I do? He cannot cleanse himself, and I cannot take him up as he is. Then I must cleanse him from the defilement of mud. When he is
cleansed he is ready for full fellowship with his father. No offence, no defilement.
The Greek words bring this out. The word for "forgiveness" means to send away, like when the offerer of the Old Testament put his hands on the offering and drove it away into the wilderness. "Remission" is another word for it. But the word for "cleansing" has to do with washing away defilement. Thus, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Now, something else comes out in this passage. The mud on that little boy is not a part of him, nor of him. It is the defilement of the world. God's concern with a believer's sins is not judicial; it is remedial. The offence caused by my boy's disobedience and playing in mud is not an offence that might be committed against me by the boy of someone else. If my neighbor's boy threw a rock through my window, that offence would have to be dealt with by law, as far as I am concerned. Thus, he would have no recognition in my favor, but the act would have to stand in judgment under law. Whatever remedy should be applied to his sins must be applied by his father, not me. But in the case of my own boy, I have already assumed complete responsibility for all he does. Thus, when he damages his clothes or does anything else that causes expense to me, the bill is already paid. My whole concern about his sin now is remedial. The judicial part of it was settled when he was born my child.
So it is that when I was born God's child, the whole judicial aspect of my sins was settled, and I was pronounced by the law holy. Nothing I ever do can affect my relationship
to God as His child. God is responsible for what I do and the debt of all my sins has been paid already. God's interest in my sins now is wholly remedial. What He wants is to keep me cleansed from the defilement of the old life, now dead but hanging on until the death of the body. This is where I touch the world, through the fleshly life, and this is where I become defiled. If I hate this defilement, and confess it before God, my attitude takes away the offence, and he forgives me. Then, through the blood of Christ, He lovingly washes away the defilement Then I can have fellowship with Him. That will make me happy and help me bear fruit of the Spirit.
Notice again, the offence of sin in the life of God's child is not a breach of relationship. Relationship - father and child - depends on birth, and is forever settled on that ground. Fellowship - the walk of the father and child - depends on conduct. Relationship can never be broken; fellowship can. Our birth of the Spirit is brought about through repentance and faith in Christ as our complete and only Saviour. Once for all this is settled there. Our fellowship in the Spirit is brought about and kept by confession of sin on our part and forgiveness and cleansing on God's part. This is promoted throughout our walk with the Lord.
Furthermore, because we are God's children, we have the right, on confession of our sins, to forgiveness and cleansing. This is very important. Forgiveness and cleansing are not acts of God's mercy. The only mercy God has for any of us is in Jesus Christ. His act of mercy is giving Jesus to be our Sacrifice for all sin. Forgiveness and cleansing are acts of justice, based on the finished work of Christ for us. God has an agreement with our Advocate, that, if we will confess our sins, He will forgive. And this act
of forgiveness and cleansing (for it is all one act) comes out of God's faithfulness and justice. He is faithful to His Son, according to agreement, and just in forgiving and cleansing us because of the blood. Therefore, "He is faithful and just to forgive us, and to cleanse its from all unrighteousness." All this wonderful life is brought to us through Jesus. Our Advocate works it all up there at the throne, and the Spirit works it all down here in our hearts. Praise His Holy Name!
[Buell H. Kazee, Faith is the Victory, 1951. Used with the permission of Philip R. Kazee. - jrd]
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