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He Breaks the Power of Canceled Sin

October 10, 2006

On Sunday I said, “The only sins of which you can truly repent are forgiven sins.”  Did you get that?  It’s counter-intuitive.  We usually think we have to repent before we are forgiven.   But consider this excerpt from a modern paraphrase of Puritan Walter Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ. 

It is no insult to Christ, it is no slighting of God’s justice and holiness, to come to Christ while you are a corrupt sinner.  The real insult to Christ is when you condemn the fullness of his grace and merit by trying to make yourself righteous and holy before you receive him!

You will likely answer, in bitterness of soul, “Oh, let me first have some love to God and some godliness in my heart.  Let me have some freedom from the way my heart so often rebels against God….  Let my raging lust be quieted, and let the filthy chamber of my heart be cleaned up….  I want to be more humbled for sin, I want to loathe sin, be ashamed of it, and be sorry for it with a godly sorrow–not merely because of the punishment of sin, but because it grieves the Holy Spirit of God.   I want to be able to willingly confess my sins.  I want to pour out my soul to the Lord in passionate prayer for forgiveness….”

Oh, you poor distressed soul, are these the things you desire?  The best thing I can tell you to comfort you in your pain is that these things are good, but your desires are not well-timed! … You are only stirring up your corruption and hardening your heart.  You are making your wounds hurt even more because of your foolishness.  These good qualifications and actions can only come into your life once you have faith in Christ.

The way to get rid of raging lusts is by faith, which purifies the heart and works powerfully through love (Ac 15.9, Gal 5.6)  Your soul must come to take pleasure in God and Christ by faith, or else it will just go after fleshly and worldly pleasures.  The more you strive against your lusts without faith, the more your lusts will be stirred up.

A stubborn criminal will come to tears sooner from a pardon than from a fear of prison.  You are not likely to be sorry for grieving God with your sins while you consider him an enemy.   You have to believe in God’s forgiving and accepting grace if you are ever going to sincerely confess your sins.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2006 10:15 am

    “The only sins of which you can truly repent are forgiven sins.”

    Such a good word. It’s what allows us to come boldly to God.

  2. October 10, 2006 10:30 am

    This is something I’ve been wondering about, and you may be the perfect guy to bounce this off:

    Is it inaccurate to say that all are forgiven?

    This isn’t to say we are all saved, but that we are forgiven, and all things have been reconciled to God. People still choose their own kingdom, of course.

    But is that heretical to put it that way? I’m no theologian…

  3. October 10, 2006 11:10 am

    Hi Brant, thanks for stopping by.

    I think that the theologians I read would not say that all are forgiven. Rather, they would make a distinction between Redemption Accomplished and Applied (see book by this name by John Murray).

    Christ’s death on the cross purchased (accomplished) the forgiveness of sins for all those who would believe on Him. But that forgiveness is not applied to them until they are united to Christ by faith.

    That might raise the question, “What about those for whom Christ died but to whom the forgiveness is never applied?” As a Calvinist, my answer is “There are no such people. All those for whom Christ died are effectually called to faith in Christ.” But that requires swallowing the red pill of Calvinism and finding out just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

    But even if one didn’t want to swallow that, I still think my second paragraph could be affirmed by all.

  4. October 10, 2006 6:59 pm

    I guess the problem for me is seeing how forgiveness is played out in normal life.

    I mean, I can’t forgive someone and delay it’s application, so it’s hard for me to understand it.

    Does that make any sense?

  5. October 10, 2006 8:57 pm

    Hmm. Of course all human analogies will break down at some point, but let’s play with this one for a while.

    Suppose I borrow something from you worth $100 and in my carelessness I break it. Now I owe you $100. But suppose I’m a jerk and I insist that I don’t really owe you $100, it wasn’t really worth that much, it was an accident, and I think you’re unreasonable for demanding restitution from me.

    Now suppose someone steps in and pays my debt to you on my behalf. You now regard my debt as paid in full and you are reconciled to me. My forgiveness has been purchased/accomplished. I however, refuse to accept your forgiveness because I still think you’re a big meanie. The forgiveness is not yet applied.

    So Christ’s work on the cross purchased our pardon. But it awaits the Spirit’s work in our hearts before the pardon can be applied.

    Whaddya think? Does that work? Any historic heresies hidden away in the analogy somewhere?

  6. Egana permalink
    October 11, 2006 10:12 am

    ooooo… ‘hidden historic heresies”

    I like the way that sounds…

    I have been thinking about how this applies to my parenting. I always insist that they “make it right” by asking for forgiveness before they continue on with their lives. Say, kid 1 hits kid 2. Kid 2 yells “hey!” Mama reminds kids to be kind to each other. Kid 1 wants to play with kid 2, kid 2 is still mad. I ask kid 1 to “make it right” with kid 2, and then a mumbled “please forgive me for hitting you” can be heard… kid 2 says “i forgive you” with varying degrees of resentfulness, and then they start playing again.

    So how would this play out? Kid 2 (the injured) would forgive and then kid 1 (the injurer) would ask for forgiveness? Sounds wack to me…

    But (as I hope the above illustrations makes clear) what we have now is not true repentance and forgiveness either. Maybe using children as an anology is inherantly flawed.. lets try parent child analogy…

    Kid 1 calls mom a “stupid head” when asked to turn off the computer game, slams down the keyboard, and stomps out of the room, and… (you knew it was coming)… slams bedroom door in angry defience of the bitterness of life. Mom then follows kid 1 (at great risk to life and limb) and calms it down on its bed until it is once more a rational, reasonable creature. Kid 1 (not anrgy any more) wants to play and move on. Mom insists gently that kid 1 must “make it right” with mom. Kid 1 hugs mom and says “pelase forgive me for my fit?” Mom says, “I forgive you. Whne I ask you to do something, you need to obey with no fits, yes Mama?” Kid 1 says “yes Mama.” and then we do whatever…

    So how would this forgive first thing apply in the most recent above analogy?

    In true Extrovert fashion, I think I may have answered my own question… the fact that in this particular scenario (not applicable to all scenarios I quickly add) the gentleness of mom reveals that mom has already forgiven kid 1? Clearly mom is not holding anything against kid 1, or seeking to punish or get revenge… hmmm… i just don’t know…

  7. October 11, 2006 10:21 am

    “Egana”, that’s just it.

    If I’m following this, we have to invoke a third-party in the $100 forgiveness analogy. And maybe that’s the right way to think about it.

    But in my own fathering experience: My kids are already forgiven. In fact, I know they’re going to disobey today, and tomorrow, and in a very real way — they’re forgiven ahead of time.

    Doesn’t mean they won’t ultimately reject me. I realize that human analogies break down, but Jesus used them all the time to illustrate the Kingdom. The prodigal’s father ran out to meet him, before words of regret were uttered.

    It also seems (maybe?) like Jesus was treating people like they were already forgiven, and then blasting those who didn’t recognize that forgiveness for others.

    To use Egana’s two kids: If one is forgiven by you, the parent, but the other keeps blabbing about the sin of the other — which you’ve forgiven — you’d blast the judgmental kid, too. I would, anyway.

    I’d like to be able to treat people like they’re already forgiven by God. I sacrifice my right to judge their sinfulness, because my Father has already let it go. And I’d love to be able to tell the person — someone who already feels they stand condemned by Christians — No! The good news is you are forgiven. We all are. Now choose His Kingdom over yours…

    I think people would really respond to that, but I don’t want to say it if it’s not true, obviously.

    Thanks for letting me ask this here. I wish I was more succinct about it…


  8. October 11, 2006 11:16 am

    I believe that what we are actually discussing is the nature and the extent of the atonement. That is, what did Jesus actually accomplish on the cross, and for whom did he accomplish it?

    1 John 1:9 says “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…”

    Why just? Wouldn’t you expect merciful to forgive? Why just to forgive? Because on the cross Jesus satisfied the demands of divine justice against our sins. He died as our substitute sacrifice. He drank the cup of God’s wrath against our sins for us. Now the cup is empty. No more wrath. Justice is satisfied once for all. So…it would actually be unjust for God not to forgive us!

    This is what I believe Jesus accomplished on the cross for us. But if his accomplisment was in fact this mighty, then it couldn’t have been done for every person in the world. If this kind of atonement was made for every person in the world, then every person in the world is going to heaven. Some may not believe it, but is not unbelief a sin? And has not the wrath of God against sin been satisfied? Would not God be unjust to torment an unbeliever for a debt that Jesus has already paid?

    So the analogy of the Father being reconciled to the child before the child is reconciled to the Father works…but only for the elect. And, of course, we don’t know who the elect are. And, of course, we don’t go around saying “Good news! if you are one of the elect you’re going to be saved!” No, the way I say it is “Jesus Christ has already paid the penalty for the sins of all those who will believe in Him. So if you trust Him, you will receive the forgiveness already purchased for you.” And then the elect show themselves to be the elect by believing.

    Everyone limits the atonement. Calvinists limit the extent of the atonement. Arminians limit the power of the atonement. For an Arminian, the atonement doesn’t actually save anyone, it just makes people saveable, able to save themselves by their own choice.

    As for all being already forgiven, here’s a verse that should give us pause. John 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

    Almost everyone I know who believes in limited atonement, myself included, hated the doctrine for about three years. But before you reject it consider a few verses and then I’ll put a link to one of the best Piper sermons I’ve ever heard in which he tries to show that the Calvinist view of the atonement affirms all that the Arminian view affirms, but even more.

    John 10:15 I lay down my life for the sheep.
    John 10:26 you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

    John 17:9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me

    Here’s the sermon:

    It’s the Nov 10, 2004 evening session

  9. October 11, 2006 11:30 am

    One more thought on the application to human forgiveness. I extend forgiveness to all not because God has already forgiven them, but because

    1) I know that every sin has been/will be punished either once for all on the cross or forever and ever in hell. Justice will be done, who am I to punish another for sinning against me?

    2) I’ve already been forgiven an incalculable debt to God, how can I not forgive others their infinitely smaller debt to me? (Matthew 18:21ff)

  10. Egana permalink
    October 11, 2006 11:56 am



    yummy spiritual food….

    tastes good as I meditiate (chew my mental cud) on it….

  11. October 11, 2006 4:03 pm

    This probably more than anybody wanted, but now I’m started and can’t stop.

    It seems also relevant to point out that not every person in the world is a child of God. (Jn 1:12)

    In fact, it is wrong to think of even the elect as “children of God” before their union with Christ by faith (Ep 2:3)

    So I think we have to keep saying, despite the fact that it doesn’t square with the analogy to our children, that forgiveness is not applied to us until we believe, despite the fact that it has been accomplished for the elect 2,000 years ago.

    But to get back to the point of the original post, if you are a child of God, it is the faith that your sins are already forgiven because of the work of Christ (yes the third party is essential to the analogy) that enables you to repent.

  12. Egana permalink
    October 11, 2006 4:46 pm

    so, I am going to open another huge can of worms…

    if they wriggle all around nad get messy, you can blame me…

    when Christians talk about faith, sometimes it seems like an entity unto itself, like it is something that works ON me… and then sometimes it seems like something that comes from INSIDE me…

    Romans 3:28 ‘for we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” is an example of the ON me kind… it comes from outside of me, and works something new and amazing in me.

    2 Corinthians 1:24 talks about Paul’s ministry to the peopl of Corinth, so that they might ‘stand firm in your faith.” this seems to be a faith that comes from INSIDE.

    Your sentence read “if you are a child of God, it is the faith that your sins are already forgiven because of the work of Christ (yes the third party is essential to the analogy) that enables you to repent.” and I wonder what is this faith. Is it the external working of God on me, or is it my believing and trusting God’s promises…

    or maybe it is both?

  13. Egana permalink
    October 11, 2006 6:25 pm

    it occurs to me that this might better be on the Q&A page… it was spawned by your use of the word “faith” but really is not germane to the Armenian / Calvinism thing… move it if you think it would be better there…

  14. October 11, 2006 6:46 pm

    Your faith is always your faith in that you exercise it, you believe. But it doesn’t have its origin within you; it is an effect of the grace of God. He opens your eyes to see and your heart to believe. (Ac 16.14) Your faith is a gift of God’s grace (Ep 2:8-9)

  15. October 11, 2006 7:02 pm

    “Almost everyone who believes in limited atonement, myself included, hated the doctrine for about three years.”

    Does that mean three years after becoming a believer? What happened after three years? Does this mean that now you like the doctrine, as opposed to just believing it is true?

  16. October 11, 2006 7:13 pm

    For about three years after becoming a believer I didn’t believe it was true. I would quote 1 John 2:2 and thought that settled the matter.

    Then after three (maybe 4-5?) years I became convinced it was true, but I still wasn’t real happy about it for another 6months to a year.

    Now I do rejoice in the doctrine because, as I said, I see that everyone (except universalists) must limit the atonement either in power or in scope.

    And by limiting it in scope, we’re not saying that the blood of Christ is insufficient to atone for all. No, there is enough merit in the blood of Christ to ransom as many worlds of sinners as there are sinners in the world. The questions is for whom is the atonement intended? It’s intended to atone for the sins of the elect from every tribe tongue and nation. And for those people, it is indomitably powerful to save.

    This is great news. Jesus didn’t just throw me a life preserver so that I could save myself. No, he threw me a life preserver and then I flipped him off. Then I got hit by a wave and started to sink like a stone. Then he jumped into the sea and swam down and dragged me to shore and performed CPR. But it was too late. I was dead. Then he stood up and said “Mike, arise!” And I arose from the dead and clasped his feet and cried “My Savior!”

    He didn’t do that for everyone. As long as you think God loves everyone the same, you’ll never understand how much he loves _you_.

  17. October 11, 2006 7:48 pm

    Great stuff to think about. Thanks much for your applied intellect!


  18. October 11, 2006 8:05 pm

    The place I get stuck is, if we only believe by grace because we are the elect and we were predestined to do so, then how can it be fair or just for God to eternally torment people who were never given the grace to believe? If the ability to believe comes from God, how can he hold people resonsible for being unbelievers if he never granted them the ability to believe? I certainly don’t hold them accountable, because it is still mostly inexplicable to me that *I* believe – I didn’t do anything to deserve it or cause it to happen. I don’t merit any praise for what God did to me or for me – I basically got steamrolled by God – and I don’t see how anyone could deserve condemnation for not being destined to stand in the path of the Divine Earthmover.

    Note, I don’t intend to say that the sin of unbelief is acceptable, I just don’t see how a mere perishable person could be held accountable for it.

  19. October 11, 2006 8:11 pm

    Am I seriously going to have to be going around and around with this for upwards of three years? This is like being 13 again.

  20. October 11, 2006 8:59 pm

    It’s a pretty freaky thing, humanly speaking.

    The truth is that everybody deserves eternal death. And many, many people are going to get what they deserve.

    But for his own purposes, God has chosen to save some. But why some and not others? Why me and not, say, my parents? It seems unfair. And a little weird: I could actually understand all perishing; we deserve that. And I could understand all being saved. But some and not others? It doesn’t seem right.

    The idea that our salvation is up to us has a significant appeal to a mind in this difficulty; it excuses God from the charge of being unfair. But honestly, when I open the Bible and read, and read, and read, I can’t escape the fact that this is not the case: It is painfully clear to me that God calls whomever he wants, he is free and sovereign in this choice, and he does not seem particularly troubled by this apparent inequity, and he doesn’t spent much time defending his purposes in this matter.

    This bothered me deeply for the years I spent contemplating it initially.

    So ultimately my acceptance of, and eventual rejoicing in, God’s sovereignty came primarily from the contemplation of one central idea: God’s glory is so central to himself, and so central to the existence of absolutely everything, and so incalculably valuable, that God’s own self-magnification is more important than our ultimate destinies, and our sin against this glory is monstrous beyond measure.

    Bottom line: Why will some be punished forever? To magnify God’s holiness and justice. And why will some be saved? To magnify God’s grace and mercy.

    These purposes are at the center of created reality, and insofar as I am able to accept them, I am able to accept his sovereignty and my utter, utter, unworthiness to know him, or to even exist, for that matter.

    Frankly, when I read the Law, or the Prophets, or the Gospels, or the letters of Paul, or Revelation, this view is the only thing that makes sense of the way God speaks about himself, and about us. It’s the only theme that unifies the apparent mishmash about God’s power and our responsibility.

  21. Egana permalink
    October 11, 2006 9:11 pm

    feeling guilty about being elect…

    I can relate to this… not when my heart is sorta lukewarm, but when I have been “hagah-ing” (like a dog chewing his bone) over the gospel, and I am more and more in awe and wonder at it, I start to feel guilty for being happy… guilty for being blessed, because I know I don’t deserve it, and although I know I am fully safe in Christ, I fear the judgement of Satan and the world who will rightly point their finger at me and demand “fairness” since I am getting something immeasurably good that I so clearly don’t deserve…

    I hated God, I made fun of Him, I ignored him, I belittled his people, I mocked his word, I took delight in my intellectual pride that I didn’t “need” God…

    So yes, in Christ I receive all sorts of blessings, everything that I could ever want and more than that, and I don’t deserve any of it…

    But only he knows who else is on the list of rotten corpses who hate him, but whom he chooses to love unjustly and without their meriting it… anyone who might want to argue with me about it might be on the list as well..

    And I certainly didn’t make the list myself; he made it.

    So what happens is that I have two options: I can alleviate my guilt by getting mad at God in a sort of self-protective self-righteousness… Hey God, that’s not fair! You’re doing it wrong! These rules favor nobody but your own power and glory! We want some rules we can have a chance at winning with!

    Or I can channel all that wonder, fear, and angst into fervent prayer for those whom I love who are (as of yet) not shown to be among the elect… Hey God, I am so overwhelmed by the richness I have in You, and how I am so undeserving, and yet my family can’t taste your goodness, they can’t enter in to your joy, they can’t share in this feast with me. Please bring them in, call to them and give them ears to hear, open their eyes and let them see, speak your life-giving word into their dead hearts, as you did me, and let us enjoy and magnify you together to your great glory and our super-abundant blessing.

  22. October 11, 2006 9:13 pm

    I went over to Monergism to read their thought of the day or whatever might jump out at me, and there was this (see below) in an article called “Wrath and Mercy” by Christopher Love.

    Basically it is what Gorfchild just said. Amazing. Thanks Isaiah543 and Gorf for the kind and thoughtful answers.

    6. Though the decrees of God in reference to men’s salvation extend but to a very few, yet this is no ground at all for us to have hard thoughts of God, or to look upon Him as cruel and unmerciful. The reasons of this were in part hinted at before: (1) Because God is not bound to save any, and therefore it is no act of cruelty or injustice in Him that He saves so few. (2) God has a sovereignty over all His creatures. He may do with them what He pleases, and none can say unto Him, “What doest Thou?” (3) The Lord would have shown more mercy when He saved but one man in the world than He would have done rigor of justice had He condemned all, because all have sinned and thereby deserved damnation, and God is not bound to save any of them. (4) God has dealt better with us than He did with the angels that sinned. For you know all the angels in heaven that sinned, in aspiring to be like the Most High, were all thrown down and damned, not one of them being saved, but all reserved in chains of dark­ness to the judgment of the great day. But yet, notwith­standing, though all mankind had sinned, and so fell short of the glory of God, yet they were not all con­demned, and that because Jesus Christ took upon Himself not the nature of angels, but of man; and therefore, though all the angels that sinned perished, yet though we have all sinned, we do not all perish, but there is a remnant rescued from death and damnation and appointed to obtain salvation.

  23. October 11, 2006 10:16 pm

    I like the term Divine Earthmover :) It makes me very happy :) I want to hagah all over it ;) hehehe…

  24. October 12, 2006 9:24 am

    Mike said:Everyone limits the atonement. Calvinists limit the extent of the atonement. Arminians limit the power of the atonement. For an Arminian, the atonement doesn’t actually save anyone…

    that reminded me that if we believe in a universal atonement – for every person who ever lived – then everybody in hell had thier sins forgiven under the blood of Christ. This is a great injustice on God’s part! I think Mike alluded to this by the 1John1:9 quote. But to imagine the Son’s sacrifice not being effectual, well, is unimaginable. Those are the terms that help me to think of it the most.

    Here’s Spurgeon who says it better:
    If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good! (from here)

    And Gorfchild, thank you, that was beautiful. :)

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