Monday, February 19, 2007

1 John 1:9

“If we continue to confess our sins, faithful is He and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from every unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).”

We have now arrived at verse 9 of 1 John, a verse which seems to have created some confusion amongst Evangelical Christians concerning the discipline of the “confession of sins.” There are some well-meaning Christians that advocate the false teaching that redeemed believers are not required to confess their sins for any reason at all. It is claimed that the Christian is already justified in Christ, and his sins are forgiven him (Eph. 1:7). Why should the believer, then, confess his sins after being saved in Christ Jesus? Is it not true that all his sins are cleansed by the atoning death of our Savior? Worse, it may even be a sign of a lack of faith if the believer continues to confess his sins. Does he doubt the fact that Christ is able to forgive him of all his sins?

Such an understanding of Scripture confuses the position which a Christian has in Christ with his responsibility as a failing individual on earth. We must seek to understand what John is trying to convey to his readers here in 1 John 1:9. Firstly, is John speaking to unbelievers or believers? John is obviously not referring to unsaved individuals here, as the word “we” includes John himself. He is instructing Christians what to do with sins in their lives. While the sinner is to repent and believe in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, the saint is to confess his sins. Merriam Webster defines the verb “confess” as “to acknowledge (sin) to God.” Thus, to confess is to own up or to admit that one has indeed committed the sin.

According to Wuest, “The verb [confess] is present subjunctive, speaking of continuous action. This teaches that the constant attitude of the saint toward sin should be one of a contrite heart, ever eager to have any sin in the life discovered for him by the Holy Spirit, and ever eager to confess it and put it out of the life by the power of that same Holy Spirit.” Robertson adds that the “confession of sin to God and to one another (James 5:16) is urged throughout the N.T. from John the Baptist (Mark 1:5) on.” But why should the Christian confess his sins? We must remember that the Christian is justified in the sight of the righteous God, and in legal terms we are indeed forgiven of all our sins - past, present and future. The NT, therefore, seems to convey to us a confusing message. On one hand, we are forgiven of all our sins as believers. On the other hand, we are commanded to confess our sins.

One commentator translates the verse as, “If we confess our sins, He . . . will forgive the sins we confess and moreover will even cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” As fallen creatures with fallen minds, we are unable to perceive every single sin we have ever committed, let alone every sin we will ever commit. God alone knows the full extent of a person’s unrighteousness at any given moment. How are we, then, able to confess all our sins? We cannot. John did not ask us to confess our every sin as if we know all our sins. We are, however, responsible to acknowledge every single sin that we are made aware of by the Holy Ghost. There is thus no need to agonize over sins of which we are unaware. This, however, does not explain why we are required to confess our sins.

As sons of a loving heavenly Father, our positions (as sons) do not change with every sin we commit in our lives as Christians. The Calvinistic proclamation of “Once saved, always saved” is a truism we must not forget. But the son who loves his Father must also acknowledge his faults and failures. A son who never feels the need to ask his heavenly Father for forgiveness for his sins can hardly have much sensitivity to the sins he had committed. Furthermore, our Lord taught his disciples to seek forgiveness of their sins in a prayer (Matt. 6:11-12) that is known to every Reformed church, and possibly, every evangelical church. Our Lord cannot be undermining the extent of His atonement when He asked Christians to seek forgiveness! Herein lies the necessity of human responsibility. Even free grace teacher, Zane Hodges, admits that “confession of sin is never connected by John with the acquisition of eternal life, which is always conditioned on faith.”

Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit. Christians, however, are not taught to say, “Well, since my walk with God is made better by the Holy Spirit, and it is His responsibility to transform me to be more Christ-like, I can do whatever I like without feeling remorse or compunction for my sinful actions.” As he grows in grace and spiritual maturity, the true believer becomes more and more sensitive to sins in his life. He will desire a closer walk with his heavenly Father, and he will feel remorse for failing his loving Father in thoughts, words or deeds. The Christian cannot escape his responsibility to live a holy life (1 Peter 1:14-16). Likewise, the believer is not exempted from asking forgiveness for sins in his life. Justification must not be confused with sanctification. Asking God for forgiveness does not contradict the fact that the Christian is, indeed, forgiven of all his sins. In fact, it is the believer’s responsibility to confess whatever sins the Spirit brings to remembrance in his life. Therefore, the teaching that Christians should not confess their sins is erroneous, and even deleterious to the believer’s sanctification process.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Note on Hypocrisy

Isaiah 29:13
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

Mark 7:6
He answered and said unto them [to the Pharisees and scribes], Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

Jesus’ words in Mark 7:6 were directed to the Pharisees and scribes of His days. They were severely rebuked for being religious hypocrites (Matt. 23:13-33). While we will not dwell upon the specific reasons as to why the Pharisees and scribes were called hypocrites, it is timely to reflect upon this allegation of hypocrisy.

Let us be honest with each other. As sinners saved by grace, we all are hypocrites to a certain degree. And I believe that, next to pride, hypocrisy is probably one of the most hateful sins in the eyes of God. As legalists, the Pharisees were straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel (Mt 23:24). They fussed about every fine point of the law, but they missed the entire message of the Old Testament - the Messiah.

Some churches in our days may occasionally fall into the fallacy of being too moralistic in their preaching i.e. they preach against issues that ought to belong within the bounds of Christian liberty. But probably a more common error amongst Reformed, Evangelical churches is that of intellectual preaching. This is the fallacy of preaching academically on specific areas of fine doctrine without applying such doctrines to the believers’ lives. As a result, some believers have merely an intellectual grasp of the gospel, without its sanctifying grace on their lives. I do not want to go further and speculate about the salvific status of such professors of Christianity, but what I want to bring out is this: Christians are not meant to be mere intellectuals in theology.

Has the church become a theological training institution, whereby members come in simply to imbibe doctrines from the Sunday School, and to learn practical points about life from the sermons? We go to church on Sunday, get smarter in Bible knowledge, and leave the church the same person. We profess to know Christ, but our neighbors can never know Christ from our lives and speech.

Do our lives attract people to the gospel of Christ? Can we say that our colleagues and friends know that we are Christians because we live, behave, and speak like one?

The ability to argue for or against infralapsarianism, process theology, or Charismatism is laudable. Precision in theology is one thing, and we know that the Pharisees were likewise precise theologians. But please do not misunderstand my point. I, for one, am strongly for good, sound doctrine and theological training. But having an extensive, working knowledge of the Bible is not enough. Is your theology reaching and changing your life and that of others around you?

It is true that theology is not only for theologians, but also for the average layman belonging to any church. But has your theology made you a somewhat spiritually isolated, intellectual elitist? In fact, the Pharisees had become so elite, so professional that they are irrelevant to the spiritually dead people in the world. Let us ask ourselves this question, “Are we spending all our time dotting our ‘I’s and crossing our ‘T’s that we have made ourselves irrelevant to the work of the gospel?”

Take for example, the issue of evangelism. We say that we want to reach out to people who are not saved, but what are we doing in terms of evangelism? When was the last time we invited our loved ones to church, or when was the last time we shared the gospel with our neighbors? We are, indeed, called to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), and not only in our ecclesiastical, but also in our personal capacities.

If we have become so inward looking in our church life that we have no time to be ambassadors for Christ in the secular world, then we are treading the path of hypocrisy. Our doctrine is useful only for the edification of the saints, but not for the extension of His Kingdom. Worse, doctrine becomes merely a tool whereby the clergyman or the laity tries to outdo one another so as to impress the rest of the church as to how knowledgeable one has become in his command of the biblical languages and theology.

The church is not meant to be a small package all wrapped up with itself and its problems. I have known small churches that survive on a shoestring; yet, by the grace of God, they are able to reach out to the outcasts of society e.g. the drug-addicts, ex-prisoners, the orphans, and widows. Remember the words of our Savior, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31-32).”

Finally, let our theological knowledge be made useful for the Kingdom of God, and especially to those who are perishing. Let our lives be a living epistle, a light on the candlestick, and the salt of the world. And most of all let us not be guilty of spiritual hypocrisy. Our spiritual statuses are not measured by how other men see us, but by how the Lord perceives us. If our Savior is to return today, how will He rate our walk with Him? Will it be one upon ten, or ten upon ten?