Monthly Archives: April 2017

Greek Idiom: God Does Not “Receive the Face” of Man

In Galatians 2:6, Paul makes an aside regarding those of high reputation in the Jerusalem church. He writes, “What they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality.”

In the Greek, this phrase “God shows no partiality” can be more literally translated, “God does not receive the face of man.” This was a common Greek idiom, meaning that God does not show favoritism or partiality.

This idiom is used several times throughout the New Testament.

In Acts 10:34, when Peter sees that the Holy Spirit was given to Cornelius’ gentile household and neighbors, he declares that, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”

Here in Acts, the phrase “one to show partiality” is translated from a single Greek noun literally meaning “accepter-of-a-face” (prosópolémptés, προσωπολήπτης).

Another similar noun meaning partiality or favoritism, προσωποληψία (prosópolémpsia), is used four times in the New Testament. Three of the occurrences emphasis God’s impartiality (see Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, and Colossians 3:25), while the final occurrence in James 2:1 states that “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” (NIV)

This is an essential part of the gospel. God’s favor does not rest just on a select portion of humanity, because God does not show favoritism. It’s not just the Jews who receive God’s favor, nor the males, nor the rich. Jesus is drawing all of humanity to himself, although many will unfortunately reject God’s mercy and remain unrepentant.

Peter declares this truth in Acts 2:17-21, quoting the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

God’s spirit has been poured out on all His people. God’s people include both Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old. Even the lowest on the social ladder during this time—female slaves—could receive God’s Spirit.

Ever since that day on Pentecost, when a small group of Jesus followers declared the wonders of God in other languages, we have been living in the last days. The Holy Spirit is freely available to those who repent of sin and put their trust in God. It doesn’t matter who you are in the eyes of the world.

God does not show partiality, and that’s good news.

Meaning of 1 Corinthians 3: The Testing of God’s Church Builders

When discussing the last judgment and the consequences of good and bad works, I have heard it often incorrectly taught that your deeds don’t have any affect on your eternal security. If you are a Christian and have good works, congratulations, you’ll get some heavenly presents. However, if your life was defined by sinful living, don’t worry, you will still be saved—albeit with no eternal goody bag. While you “should” behave yourself as a Christian, eternity isn’t at stake, just the amount of heavenly treasure.

One of the go-to verses used to justify this wrong teaching is Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 3 where he writes that if someone’s work “is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor. 3:15)

A cursory reading of this verse without studying the context could understandably lead to this error. However, once you actually study the context and the flow of Paul’s thought, it becomes clear that this was not Paul’s point at all. In fact, Paul’s argument rather indirectly suggests that many in the local fellowship there are at risk of perishing on Judgement Day.

Before we get there, let’s take a look at the entire passage, I’ve highlighted particularly relevant portions to shed light on the true meaning.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:5-17)

The greater context is dealing with those who have shepherded the Corinthian church—namely Paul, Apollos, and those who now lead the church. Paul describes himself and the other leaders as co-workers with God. They are servants, who are working with God (v 5). Each has their own task in cooperation with God (v 5), but all credit goes to God (v 7).

What are they working towards, what does their labor produce? Paul describes them as farm hands, planting and cultivating a crop. In verse 9, he expands upon the analogy. These leaders are laborers in God’s field, and also the construction crew of God’s building.

The field and the building represent the church—the fellowship of believers themselves. Paul says “you are God’s field, God’s building.” He’s not speaking to an individual here. “You” (este, ἐστε) is plural in the Greek. Paul is saying “you all”—that is, all you believers in Corinth—are God’s field and God’s building.

This is the first key to understanding the passage. The labor or work Paul describes here is not the totality good or bad works of our life, but rather the “construction” of the church itself.

In verse 10, this church building analogy continues. Paul laid the foundation, and the foundation was Jesus Christ (v 12). Now, after Paul has built the foundation of the church, other builders (church leaders) have come and continued the work. Paul explains that not all work is equal. Again, he’s not talking about general good and bad works, but specifically “church construction” work. Some build with precious and high-quality materials, others with not-so-good. In other words, some pastored their fellowship well and others poorly.

This work—the church itself—will be tested on Judgement Day (v 14). If the church doesn’t past the test, if it is burned up, these church leaders will suffer great loss, but will themselves be barely saved (v 15). The loss is not just rewards, but the loss of their congregation itself—the loss of people’s eternal lives. The pastors are largely to blame, as they did not train their church to the highest standard.

Paul does not stop there however. He has already addressed good leaders who’s work stands the test, and consequently are rewarded. He’s shown that those leaders who do a poor job shepherding their congregation will suffer loss, but they themselves will be saved. Now, in verse 16-17, Paul addresses those who are not builders, but actively tear down and destroy the church.

Paul writes, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (v 16). Before I studied this more closely, I always assumed Paul was saying that each of us individually are temples of God, an idea he expresses elsewhere (see 1 Cor. 6:19). However, that’s not what he’s saying here. Paul writes that “you all” (plural again) are God’s temple (singular). Paul is continuing with the building analogy. The church fellowship (“you all”) together constitute the singular building of God’s temple.

He continues, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.” (v 17) Paul has already talked about poor workers, but this isn’t just a poor worker. This is someone who is actively damaging the church. They are teaching false doctrines, leading people away from the truth. They are destroying the body of believers in Corinth. These destructive workers won’t be saved. No, God will destroy them.

To summarize, here’s what Paul reveals in 1 Corinthians 3 regarding church leaders and the quality of their work:

  1. Good church leaders: Church isn’t destroyed on Judgement Day. Leaders are saved and receive rewards.
  2. Poor church leaders: Their church is destroyed (congregants don’t pass the test and are destroyed). Leaders are barely saved, but suffer loss of their church and don’t receive rewards.
  3. Destructive church leaders: Work at tearing down the church, and so God destroys them.

Next time you hear someone use this passage to argue that works don’t matter, graciously point out to them that Paul is addressing something else entirely here. Paul teaches that in the last judgement, God will test the church. Some will stand the test, while others will be burned up. The church leaders will be held responsible for the quality of their shepherding. All those pastors whose teaching leads people astray, will be eternally punished for destroying God’s building.

A sobering passage, but a good wake-up call for all of us.


Are Our Past, Present, and Future Sins Already Forgiven?

A falsehood spreading among the Christian church today is that at our conversion, Jesus forgives not only our past sins, but also our present and future sins—those we haven’t even committed yet.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll hear something along these lines, “Jesus has already forgiven all our sins—past, present, and future.” This is patently false.

Now to be clear, Jesus’ death was indeed a sacrifice given once for all sin. He is not sacrificed over and over again into eternity. However, just because Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was sufficient for all sins that ever were and ever will be committed does not mean that all sins are automatically forgiven. This would be universalism. No, rather it means that the opportunity for forgiveness exists for all mankind, with conditions for God’s forgiveness based on each individual’s response to the gospel.

As Christians, when we are born anew, Jesus’ death provides forgiveness for all the sins we’ve committed up to that point, while also creating a means of forgiveness should we sin in the future. Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice does not, however, mean that our future sins are already forgiven prior to being committed.

Forgiveness in both the Old and New Testaments is only for past sins. As born-again Christians, we are taught to regularly to ask for God’s forgiveness when we sin. We seek this forgiveness through coming humbly before God in true repentance and confessing our sin before Him. This is a foundation teaching of Christianity. One that has been taught in the early church through present time. It has been accepted by Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants, showing it’s a core historical teaching of the Christian faith, regardless of denomination.

In this post, we’ll cover the following points:

  1. According to Scripture, God’s Forgiveness Is For Past Sins Alone
  2. Repentance and Confession Are Required for Continued Forgiveness
  3. These Conditions (Confession & Repentance) Limit Forgiveness to Past Sins Alone
  4. Historical Church Universally Taught Confession for Forgiveness of Past Sin

1. According to Scripture, God’s Forgiveness Is For Past Sins Alone

One of the clearest scriptures regarding what sins are forgiven when we become Christians is found in 2 Peter 1.  Peter, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes that if we possess godly qualities, we will be “neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v 8) However, regarding those who do not have these spiritual traits, Peter writes:

He who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:9)

Peter clearly specifies that Christians have been purified—not from their future sins—but from their past sins, the sins formerly committed.

James also makes it clear that saved believers can have sins that are not yet forgiven. He encourages elders to pray for those who are sick in the church, and “if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” (James 5:15) A saved believer can have unforgiven sins which, according to James, can cause sickness, proving that future sins are not already forgiven. The elders are instructed to pray over such person for them to receive forgiveness.

This foundational truth, that only past sins are covered, is woven throughout scripture. In Ezekiel, we read that God will forgive unfaithful Israel for all their sins they had committed in the past, establishing an eternal covenant with them.

Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done,” the Lord God declares. (Ezekiel 16:62-63)

Just as Peter and James both clarify that only our past sins are forgiven, Ezekiel states the same truth. God says that He will establish a covenant, “when I have forgiven you for all that have done.” He is not forgiving all that they will do in the future, but rather all that the have done in the past.

2. Repentance and Confession Are Required for Continued Forgiveness

The cleansing of past sins alone is reinforced by God’s requirements for forgiveness seen in all of scripture, in both the Old and New Testament. We are forgiven by the blood of Jesus—not by our own deeds or worthiness. However, in order to receive the cleansing benefit of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must abide by the conditions set by God himself—namely true repentance and confession of our sins before Him which accompany true faith.

Examples in the Old Testament. Repentant confession before receiving forgiveness was illustrated throughout the Mosaic Law, which was a shadow of the reality we now know in Christ. On each Day of Atonement, Aaron was instructed to “lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins.” (Lev. 16:21) Confession of sin prior to atonement was required for all guilt offerings.

King David writes of confession and subsequent forgiveness in the Psalms:

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalms 32:5)

Finally, in Proverbs, we read that, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (Proverbs 28:13) In the Hebrew scriptures, confession and forsaking of sin (repentance) is a condition upon receiving God’s mercy.

Examples in the New Testament. The requirement of confession and repentance continues in the New Testament. We all know the words of the Lord’s prayer. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Mt. 6:12) This is another way of asking God to forgive our sins.

This prayer was not given for the lost, but for Jesus’ disciples. It teaches us, as followers of Jesus, to regularly ask for God’s forgiveness, not only at conversion, but whenever we sin in our Christian walk.  If we were already forgiven when we sin, there would be no need to pray this prayer. However, Jesus taught us that even born again Christians must readily acknowledge their sin before a Holy God in order to receive forgiveness.

The apostles and earliest church leaders also taught believers to confess their sins. James, the brother of Jesus, admonishes church members to “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

Similarly, John writes:

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

Clearly, our forgiveness and cleansing from sin is contingent upon repentant confession before God.

3. These Conditions (Confession & Repentance) Limit Forgiveness to Past Sins Alone

These required conditions for our forgiveness—repentance and confession—also are clear evidence that God’s forgiveness is for past sins alone, not present or future transgressions. This is simply because we can only repent and confess sins already committed.

Present sins, by definition, are those actions of disobedience that are being committed the very same moments we are seeking God’s forgiveness. Since no one can be simultaneously sinning and repenting, this shows “present” sins are not forgiven by God. Only when a person ceases to commit the sin and confesses them before God can their wrong-doing be atoned for.

Regarding future disobedience, it is impossible to repent and confess of such sin, thus barring the possibility of forgiveness. First, we don’t know what those future sins are, so we can’t confess them. Secondly, we can’t truly repent before God for sin we plan on committing in the future, since repentance consists of truly turning away from sin. God, who knows our deepest thoughts, isn’t fooled.

4. Historical Church Universally Taught Confession for Forgiveness of Past Sins

In agreement with scripture, the church has universally taught from the early church until today that a Christian’s confession of sins before God is required to receive forgiveness, even after baptism. Different denominations vary on the particulars, but the foundational truths stay the same. The Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and various other Protestant denominations have all taught that confession of sin for the believer is necessary to continue to receive forgiveness of sin.

This requirement of confession, as we’ve shown, is based on the teaching that sin committed after conversion or baptism is not automatically atoned for. God requires the believer to recognize when they sin, repent, and confess for forgiveness.

Likely the earliest Christian document outside of scripture, the Didache (70 AD), mentions confession of sin twice. Describing the way that leads to eternal life, it says, “Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience.” (Didache; 4.14) And later, describing a church service and communion, “On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.” (Didache; 14.1)

Ignatius (35-108 AD), a prominent Christian bishop on his way to martyrdom in Rome, wrote to many churches with final encouragements. To the church Philadelphia, Ignatius warned the Christians there to cease divisiveness and repent for forgiveness:

For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop. (Ignatius to the Philadelphians; 8.1)

In later years, after the schism in 1054 AD, both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions still taught confession for sin. After the Reformation, public and private confession was also taught in Lutheran churches. More recently, private confession has since ceased to be practiced, but the Lutheran liturgy still includes a call for confession prior to communion. While the more liturgical traditions often require coming before a spiritual leader to confess sin, many Protestant denominations teach that Christians can confess their sins directly to God without an intermediary.

I point out this historical evidence for the sake of perspective. Confession and repentance of past sin after conversion has been taught by nearly all denominations of Christianity. The idea that future sins are already or automatically forgiven is foreign to the Christian faith and is contrary to the clear scriptural evidence already presented here.


Scripture teaches us that when we are forgiven, whether at our conversion or later as Christians, this forgiveness is only for past sins—not those yet to be committed in the future. Should we sin after being filled with the Holy Spirit, we must repent from this sin and confess our sins to Jesus. He is our advocate with God the Father. (1 John 2:1)

Every day we must seek to live a holy life in Jesus, putting off all sin. If there is an area of disobedience, whatever it is, we must completely stop and confess it. This isn’t optional, but is a necessity as Christians. In Revelations, Jesus warned those believers in Pergamum who were living in sin, “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” (Rev. 2:16)

Eternity is at stake here, which is why repentance and confession is so important. We can’t presume upon God that our future sins are already forgiven, because they’re not according to His word.