I won't go into all the issues the book talks about, but the one that caught my attention was his section called "Cheating on Jesus" that deals with the subject of forgiveness.
The issue at stake here – and it is a major one – is whether or not we are saved by grace, by keeping the law, or by some curious mix of the two. If it is by grace, then we must confront what it means to be truly forgiven by God.
Under the old covenant (Abraham, Noah, Moses - up until Jesus’ death) righteousness was obtained through keeping the Law. If one sinned, the shedding of blood in the form of animal sacrifice was required to bring about atonement, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). This had to be done continually. They believed that being Jewish (God’s chosen people) was what made them part of God’s family, and that keeping the Law was what *kept* them in His family. If you didn’t keep the law, you were outside the faith.
With Jesus’ death, his shed blood provided the perfect sacrifice for all of humanity – there was now a means by which I could be made right with God, if only I avail myself of the grace (gratia) that He has freely (gratis) provided. This offering on our behalf was a “once for all” proposition – Hebrews 9:25-26 tells us, “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” A few verses later we are told that “Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those that eagerly await him.”
The message of the cross is that my past, present and future sins have already been forgiven when I put my faith in Christ. That’s it. There’s no more forgiveness that’s going to be poured out – the full measure was already given 2000+ years ago. Do you still ask God to forgive you when you fall short or fail from time to time? If so, why? What good does your asking do when the act has already been done? It’s like me asking my wife to marry me each evening before we go to bed – my continual asking doesn’t change our marital status one whit. You’re either forgiven – and live in a continual state of forgiveness as a believer – or you’re not. No middle ground that I can see. Attempting to add some works-based efforts on our part only serves to return us to bondage under the law.
So let me ask you this: If you're a Christian, and you commit a sin, what is your standing before God? If you die before you confess that sin, where do you go? I don't believe that my sin (as a believer) separates me from God or breaks my fellowship with Him. If the Spirit lives in me - if I am supernaturally fused with him in my soul - how can I be separated from what is now part of myself? This does not mean that I am free to sin - Paul makes that quite clear several times - but the struggle between my godly nature and my flesh has no bearing on my salvation.According to Dr. Doug Moo, “genuine faith…always and inevitably produces evidence of its existence in a life of righteous living.” This is what James is talking about when he writes of the necessity of works as a natural result of one’s faith. Yet even though this is (or should be) the natural process of regeneration that follows true conversion, it is not in itself a necessity for salvation. Recall the criminal who was crucified on the cross next to Jesus – where were his “good works?” He had faith, and that was enough. To add works as a requirement for salvation is to return to the Law that governed the Israelites under Moses – and we have been set free from that law through the shed blood of Christ.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that I don’t understand why people ask for forgiveness. I do; I did it for years. Confession is one thing; in confessing, we essentially agree with God that we are sinners and that we still do wrong things. But usually this is followed by asking for forgiveness, which makes sense in human relationships where a rift has been torn, fellowship has been broken, and forgiveness is necessary to repair/restore the relationship.
With regards to us and God, I don’t believe that last step is necessary, at least from His point of view. Oh, we may still do it, and I don’t think it bothers him that we do – but I think it would be a mistake to think that our asking for forgiveness suddenly brings down this rain of grace, as though God were holding it back until we asked for it.
The danger is that over time, we get into this pattern of confession/asking for forgiveness, and think that it’s the only way that we can get our slate “wiped clean” with God. We take what may be an understandable (yet wholly unnecessary) practice and elevate it to a necessity – to the point where we feel as though we’re not forgiven unless we’ve asked God for forgiveness. Now that quaint little habit begins growing into a millstone around our necks, and we preach to others that they should keep “short accounts” with God – as though He’s up there tracking our every sin and tallying it up on a celestial scorecard.
What I’m proposing isn’t really all that radical – it’s what Paul & the writer of Hebrews preached nearly two millenia ago:
Salvation by faith.
Forgiveness from God.
Freedom in Christ.For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9