The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Forgiveness Needed Even After Salvation

By: Thomas Fletcher Booher

The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16). Those who crucified Jesus were cut to the heart after Peter told them that Jesus was Lord and Christ, which prompted them to ask Peter what they should do, to which he replied, "repent" (Acts 2:37-38). When we were saved, it was because we heard the gospel, and understood that we were sinners, and we felt guilt and shame. We saw the sinfulness of ourselves, and we didn't want the stain of sin any longer, so we received the good news of the gospel with gladness and trusted in Christ for salvation. 

My question is one of sanctification. If we are saved by first responding to the gospel with conviction of sin, with feelings of guilt and shame, only to have it all washed away by Christ, shouldn't we return to this again and again in order to grow as believers? Surely the more we feel in our hearts the sins our hands commit and our minds conceive the more we will repent of our sins afresh and cling more tightly to Christ. In my experience, the most sanctifying moments have been when I have seen my sin in a powerful way, so powerful that I am convinced the Holy Spirit was being extra gracious to me. This occurred in high school once, where for many months I had been living to get revenge on my ex-girlfriend who broke my heart and slandered me. It took a phone call from the girl's mother to my mother and the sorrow that my mother had because of my wickedness for me to see how nasty and wretched I really was. I was a wicked, wicked man. And I still am. I remember breaking down into tears, sobbing into my Dad's shoulder repeating over and over, "I am a horrible person. I am a horrible person." I was. And I still am. 

Seeing my sin was the the Spirit sanctifying me. Seeing my sin and sobbing like a baby was the beginning of healing. If we are to tell unbelievers out of love that they are wicked sinners who deserve the wrath of God, we better keep preaching to ourselves that we are wicked sinners who deserve the wrath of God, and we better be looking at the sin that remains in us and take great pains to see our sins as heinously as possible. Why? Because in reality they are more heinous to God than we can possibly imagine. 

Some, even in reformed circles, seem to advise avoiding this at all costs. They seem to jump to the gospel and would have you suppress your feelings of guilt and shame, saying its all been done away with by the blood of Christ and thus guilt and shame are unnecessary, even wrong. This, I want to say, is a dangerous teaching, and the way it is expressed I simply do not believe is biblical. 

It is true that once we are in Christ we are a new creation, and in Christ we are free from the wrath of God. This is because God punished His Son in our place, to save us and redeem us from sin unto good works for Himself. It remains true, however, that when we commit sin we are the guilty party, and we should feel guilty. Otherwise, how could we ever repent of our sins to those we have sinned against? More importantly, how could we ever repent and confess our sins to God again and ask for His forgiveness? In Christ we are forgiven, but the fact remains that we are commanded to confess our sins, even as Christians (1 John 1:9). I believe, in some sense, when we confess our sins even as believers, we experience actual forgiveness afresh. Not salvific forgiveness, we already have that and cannot lose that. Rather, it is the forgiveness that I need every time I sin against my wife, and the forgiveness she needs every time she sins against me. We are already in covenant with one another, and our sins do not negate our love for one another. Our sin does not undo the covenant, but it does create a breach in the covenantal relationship, which ought to be repaired. When I repent to my wife, when I confess my sins against her, she will forgive me, she will pardon my unrighteousness. So there is a pardoning of unrighteousness even within the covenant of marriage, and I would argue, since it reflects Christ and the Church, within the New Covenant written in the blood of Christ as well. 

We should take pains not to sin against others, how much more so God. We should take pains to eradicate even little sins against one another, how much more so God. Marriage has helped me see this even more. The peccadillos I commit on a regular basis are brought into focus when committed against my wife, who I am constantly around, who is bound to see me when I am not feeling well, when I am in bad moods, when I am not trying to keep up righteous appearances in the public eye to maintain a reputation. This may be impatience, this may be rudeness, this may be selfishness on a small scale, but you begin to see how wicked these sins are when you commit them against your wife whom you have chosen to love sacrificially. You also begin to see how often you commit them. Sometimes, I still miss the sins I commit against her, and after a while she tells me and is upset. This, when I am not hardening my heart, convicts me. It makes me feel guilty. I feel ashamed. And what do I do? I repent, and she forgives me, because she loves me and is gracious to me, and has promised never to leave nor forsake me, though I often forsake her in the sins I commit against her. 

Do you see the connection? Jesus never sins against us, but we sin against Him. He keeps covenant by forgiving us, we keep covenant by repenting, by confessing our sins and seeking His forgiveness afresh. Up front the man and wife, in saying their vows to one another, are essentially saying they will forgive their spouse of all future sins committed against them. This is the covenant that is being made. But the forgiveness is a genuine forgiveness. The man and the wife also agree up front to repent to one another when they sin. This is what it means to love your wife and to love your husband as Christ loves the church and the church is to love Christ. So when a husband and wife forgive one another, they are not to forgive the sin until their spouse repents of the sin, because God does not forgive sin until it is repented of. Forgiveness brings about reconciliation, but if I sin against my wife and she "forgives" me without rebuking me and trying to bring me to repentance, then I am still unrepentant and have not confessed my sin so that I may be forgiven. If I am unrepentant, I am not forgiven by God, and despite what my wife may try to do and say, I am not forgiven by her either. This is because without repentance there can be no forgiveness of sins. The husband and wife are to seek out the repentance of their spouse by rebuking their sinning spouse, so that the Spirit will work on the spouse and bring them to conviction of sin and repentance. This is why we have church discipline. We don't ignore the sins and say to unrepentant members of the church "don't worry, even though you aren't repentant, we forgive you." No, they bar the table, and if the sin is serious enough and goes unrepented of long enough, disassociation may occur per 1 Cor. 5. This isn't being mean, this is being loving, because the purpose is to act as a rebuke and charge against the unrepentant church member so that he or she may see their sins and come back to the church in sorrow and repentance, so that actual forgiveness and restoration can transpire. 

There are many implications to draw from this beyond the simple fact that we should be repenting daily and striving to see how wicked we are so the Spirit can convict us of our sins and bring us afresh to genuine repentance. When we first came to Christ for salvation, we were repenting of all sins, past, present, and future. When we first came to Christ, we said we don't want to sin against Him ever again, and if we do, we will repent. Christ took us from our sins and says He will forgive us when we sin, but as He demands that we repent before He will save us, so He demands that we repent before He forgives us within the covenant as well. Again, this isn't to say that every time we sin we lose our salvation. Rather, it is to say that every time we sin we do damage to our covenantal relationship with Christ in the same way a husband and wife do damage to their covenantal relationship with each other when they sin, even though the sin doesn't create divorce and the need to be remarried. 

How is this fixed when the husband sins against the wife? By the wife forgiving the sin without attempting to bring her husband to repentance? Of course not; it is by lovingly exposing and pointing out her husband's sin to him so that he can see his sins and repent, in order that true reconciliation and forgiveness can occur. The wife is forgiving the breach in the covenant, she is not destroying the covenant by withholding forgiveness, but actually taking steps to mend it! I repeat, the forgiveness extended after repentance within man and wife marriage is not re-establishing the covenant or making a new one. This is because the wife has already promised to never leave nor forsake her husband, and ultimately to restore him (by God's grace) again and again to repentance out of love for the husband. By withholding forgiveness, not out of bitterness or spite, but out of love, and pursuing to bring her husband to repentance by rebuking him and helping him see firstly his sin against God and secondly his sin against her, the wife is actually keeping covenant. So Christ with us.      

Likewise, we must confess and repent of our sins in spirit and in truth to our Lord and Savior, to our spiritual groom, when we create tears in the covenant by the sins we commit while in covenant with Christ. The passages Scripture speaks of do not tell us that we will be saved if we do not continually repent and grow in holiness. Rather, Scripture says that those who are truly saved never shrink back permanently, but will continually persevere in the faith and grow in holiness; meaning that, like David when confronted by the prophet Nathan, we will turn from our sins at some point, repent of them, and confess them to Christ. It is good for the soul in the way that it is good for husbands and wives to repent and confess their sins to one another rather than pretend they don't have any sins against one another or to try and "forgive" their spouse even though their spouse is unrepentant- because repentance is actually needed for forgiveness to occur! So we can experience forgiveness afresh when we confess our sins to Christ our Lord and Savior, even while in covenant with Him. Is this not exactly what David was seeking from God in Psalm 51, when He pleads for God to restore the joy of his salvation? It wasn't that David had lost his salvation. Rather, he had lost the joy of salvation because he had lost some of the intimacy he had with God because of his prolonged unrepentant sin. Sin, even forgiven sin, affects us negatively. Indwelling sin affects our intimacy in our relationship with Christ as much and probably more than it affects our intimacy in our relationship with our spouse. 

This is how we draw closer to Christ. Not by ignoring our sins against Him and reassuring ourselves that Christ has already taken care of them on the cross, but by recognizing that the sins we commit in covenant with Christ now have another dimension to them. Our sins in covenant with Christ, though paid for on the cross, still affect our relationship with Christ. Does it cause Him to love us less? Never. When my wife sins against me, I do not love her less (and if/when I do, I am breaking my vows and must repent). Nevertheless, I do get upset, I do get angry, and I do wish she would not sin against me, because it creates a rift in our marital relationship. Do we seriously think that because Christ has paid for our sins on the cross that our sins we commit against Him once we are covenantally united to Him do not upset Him or hurt Him (and us) in any way? They do, and we need to repent of them, so that He can forgive us of them, and so we can have the joy of our salvation refreshed. 

To reject this is to do violence, serious violence, to our sanctification. We have a severely flawed understanding of sanctification and even salvation if we think that our sins don't affect anything once they have been paid for by Christ on the cross. Scripture teaches that we will persevere in the faith, and after persevering, we will receive final salvation. Scripture says nothing of a Christian who is unrepentant and unfaithful to the vows he or she has made when they received Christ as Lord and Savior. The difference between the old covenant and new isn't that we don't have to keep covenant but that because of the power of Christ and the working of His Spirit within us, we will keep covenant. The One who paid for our sins and kept covenant for us in respect to God the Father is the One who is working within us now, enabling and guaranteeing that we will keep covenant in respect to our new covenant and union that we have with Him. This New Covenant transcends the Old Covenant, and has a deeper demand than the old. Before Christ bought us with His blood, we had no obligations to keep covenant as a faithful spouse to Christ, for we were not His spouse, we were not in union with Him. But now we are. And in the new covenant we must be faithful spouses of Christ, living for Him, serving Him, loving Him as His bride. When we fail, we must repent and do better. We agreed to do this and wanted to do this when we said "I do" to Christ at the point of our salvation. Our confidence of salvation and covenant fidelity to Christ isn't found in saying we don't need fidelity, but rather that the mystical union is of such greatness that Christ being in us guarantees that we will continually be brought to see and feel our guilt and shame every time we sin against Christ. Then we will remember the gospel, and how Christ has paid for even these sins, and that, though He hates these sins, He loves us. 

Yes, for the saved person, Christ loves the sinner but hates the sin. He will extract it from us, but it will hurt. He hurts us because He loves us. We endure and even want the hurt because we love Him. We will look for the sin even though it hurts because we love Him more than we love ourselves, and we love Him more than we love ourselves because in Christ dying for us, He loved us more than He loved Himself and that loving Spirit is now in us! 

This is our calling in the New Covenant: to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, to run from sin and cling to Christ in order to live for Him. To see the filth of our remaining sins, be disgusted and feel guilt and shame because of them, repent and believe the gospel, and experience refreshment of salvation day after day. And with that refreshment, to be inspired by the Spirit all the more to put on Christ and do good works for Him.   

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