Is forgiveness so worthless?

One of the things I hear people accused of when they question or deny the imputation of Christ’s “active obedience” to believers is that they make their own righteousness the basis of their standing before God. This is a serious charge. Why is it made?

One line of reasoning seems to work this way:

  1. No one can stand before God unless he is counted as righteous.
  2. One must either be counted righteous on the basis of his own “active obedience” or another’s must be imputed to him.
  3. Therefore, those who deny it is imputed from another are relying on their own.

But this is fallacious. It completely leaves the forgiveness of sins out of the picture. The people who question or deny the imputation of Christ’s “active obedience” are reasoning in this way:

  1. No one can stand before God unless he is counted as righteous.
  2. One can be counted righteous either by never sinning or by having one’s sins forgiven.
  3. A perfectly holy God cannot simply arbitrarily overlook sin. He must condemn it.
  4. Thus, God forgives sin through the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ imputed to the sinner so that there is no condemnation remaining on his sins.

So what is lacking in this explanation? The objection I hear is that we are not in the position of Adam and Eve who were right with God but in some sort of jeapardy of falling away. Our lack of righteousness doesn’t endanger us of losing our eternal reward because Christ imputes his perfect righteousness to us.

Thus:

  1. Adam and Eve were right with God and no sin alenated them from him.
  2. Nevertheless, Adam and Eve could destroy this standing they had if they were to fail to be obedient.
  3. Forgiveness puts us right with God the way Adam and Eve were, so that no sin alienates us from him.
  4. But we cannot be disinherited by subsequent failure to obey the way Adam and Eve were.
  5. Thus we have, in addition to forgiveness, the imputed “active” obedience of Christ.
  6. Anyone who says we don’t have the imputed active obedience of Christ does not believe in in the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone through Christ alone but is actually making his own obedience the basis of his standing before God.

But this seems to overlook a basic benefit of the Gospel, one which Adam and Eve did not have in their original covenant with God: the continual forgiveness of sins. Consider:

  1. Adam and Eve were right with God and no sin alenated them from him.
  2. Nevertheless, Adam and Eve were not promised any forgiveness for sin.
  3. Therefore, Adam and Eve could destroy this standing they had if they were to sin.
  4. Forgiveness puts us right with God the way Adam and Eve were, so that no sin alienates us from him.
  5. And forgiveness is promised for us all our lives (WCF 11.5: “God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified…”)
  6. Thus, no matter how much believers sin, by commission or omission, they will invariably appear before God with all their sins forgiven. No one can accuse them of not having been obedient enough because their failure to obey is covered by the blood of Jesus. They are and will be righteous in God’s sight through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Now, I think there is more to what is going on than this. I think justification does have connotations beyond forgiveness. And I think that being represented by Christ and sharing in the verdict declared over him means we are regarded as possessing his faithfulness.

But I don’t think people who affirm what I have laid out above should be accused of losing or even compromising the Gospel. People who preach

This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

are not some danger to the Reformed ministry who need to be exposed or denied their office. They do not make their own righteousness the basis of their standing before God but confess that the blood of Christ is sufficient to justify them.

5 thoughts on “Is forgiveness so worthless?

  1. pduggie

    1. God can only forgive sins if the penalty gets paid for causing the sin. There is only justice if the wickness is punished

    2. Some sins are sins of omission. Punishment of a sin of omission is not fully just. for full justice, there must be the performance of the duty. Therefore to justly forgive a sin of omission, another must performance of the duty by another.

    3. Therefore, to have full forgiveness, we must have imputed active obedience, or we don’t have justly forgiven sins.

    Does that make sense? Is it amenable to the same criticism?

    Reply
  2. Mark

    Well, I just thing 2 is false. A sin of omission is a sin that needs to be forgiven. God’s didn’t say that the penalty for eating the forbidden fruit would be force vomiting and then a period of time without eating to make up for the absence of such time when the fruit was eaten…..

    Besides, part of the sin is not doing one’s duty “when one should.” We are supposed to be faitful at T1. Identical or even superior obedience at T2 is beside the point.

    If that’s the suppressed premise (and you may be right) all I can say is that there is an obvious reason why it is not often expressed.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Here it is again: Christ’s blood not sufficient for sins of omission at Mark Horne

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