Category Archives: Theology

The Truth About the Rapture

In many Christian circles, the teaching of the rapture is taken for granted. We hear it taught on Christian radio, and perhaps we’ve read books about it. Most evangelicals know about the rapture, assume it’s in scripture, and then go on their merry way.

When I was in high school, I read the entire Left Behind series. I didn’t think twice about whether it was scriptural or not.

There’s one problem. It’s actually not in scripture. It is a recent theological invention from the 19th century that has unfortunately gained quite a bit of popularity.

At the core, this teaching is spiritually dangerous. It tells Christians they won’t go through tribulation since God will intervene and remove them from it in the last days. Jesus, on the other hand, was very clear that those who persevere through suffering will be saved. (Mt. 24:13; Rev. 2:10) We are saved through suffering, not from suffering. There is a difference.

Corrie Ten Boom, the famous evangelist and all-around godly woman, wrote the following regarding the teaching of the rapture:

There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution.

In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly,

“We have failed.
We should have made the people strong for persecution,
rather than telling them Jesus would come first.
Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution,
how to stand when the tribulation comes,
– to stand and not faint.”

I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it.
We are next.

These words are extremely timely. The Lord knows the future. I do not. But we must be prepared to stand strong in the Lord and be willing to suffer for Jesus should we be worthy.

The following clips do a good job of debunking this misinformed teaching. The first video covers the scriptures commonly cited in support of the rapture and explains their true meaning. The second video, “Where Did the Rapture Come From?,” quickly uncovers how this teaching is a recent development associated with Dispensationalism, which was never before taught in churches historically.

 

Faith and Love in Ignatius’ Letters

Ignatius (35-108 AD), the disciple of the apostle John and overseer of Antioch, left us a series of letters written during his journey to Rome to face trial and eventually martyrdom. They were written to various churches along the journey to encourage and instruct them in his absence.

As I read through his letters recently, I was struck by the pervasive theme of love and faith. Not held apart, but bound together as a unified response towards God and the gospel. For Ignatius, both love and faith are indispensable for salvation.

Ignatius frames salvation as attaining to God—a goal that requires endurance even unto death. If we are found to be faithful at the end, only then are we true disciples of Jesus. Attaining to God is not a mere matter of intellectual faith alone. It also requires true love towards God and each other.

Direct Quotations of Ignatius
One of the most explicit statements of faith and love by Ignatius is found in his letter to the Ephesian church, the same church we know Paul was deeply involved with. As you can read in the quote below, Ignatius viewed spiritual life as a continuum that requires endurance in both faith and love.

None of these things escape your notice, if you have perfect faith and love toward Jesus Christ. For these are the beginning and the end of life: faith is the beginning and love is the end, and the two, when they exist in unity are God. Everything else that contributes to excellence follows from them. No one professing faith sins, nor does anyone possessing love hate. The tree is known by its fruit; thus those who profess to be Christ’s will be recognized by their actions. For the work is a matter not of what one promises now, but of persevering to the end in the power of faith. (Ignatius, Ephesians 14.1-2)

Earlier in the same letter, Ignatius describes the construction of the church as God’s temple, in which both faith and love play a pivotal role in forming this holy body of believers:

[…] you are stones of a temple, prepared beforehand for the building of God the Father, hoisted up to the heights by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, using as a rope the Holy Spirit; your faith is what lifts you up, and love is the way that leads up to God. (Ignatius, Ephesians 9.1)

Faith, Love, and the Crucified Christ
The theological closeness that the early church held faith and love together can be seen in a unique parallel Ignatius forms between both faith and love, and the crucified body of Jesus. He associates faith with Jesus’ fleshly body and love with Jesus’ shed blood.

You, therefore, must arm yourselves with gentleness and regain your strength in faith (which is the flesh of the Lord) and in love (which is the blood of Jesus Christ). (Ignatius, Trallians 8.1)

I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakeable faith, having been nailed as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in both body and spirit, and firmly established in love by the blood of Christ […] (Ignatius, Smyrnaeans 1.1)

The Gospel and Our Response of Faith and Love
In explaining the gospel, Ignatius describes both faith and love as our response towards Jesus:

If Jesus Christ, in response to your prayer, should reckon me worthy, and if it is his will, in a second letter that I intend to write to you I will further explain to you the subject about which I have begun to speak, namely, the divine plan with respect to the new man Jesus Christ, involving faith in him and love for him, his suffering and resurrection, especially if the Lord reveals anything to me. (Ignatius, Ephesians 20.1-2)

Again, in response to the gospel, Ignatius instructs his readers to “believe with love.” This is reminiscent of Paul’s statement to the Galatians that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:6)

But the gospel possesses something distinctive, namely, the coming of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, his suffering, and the resurrection. For the beloved prophets preached in anticipation of him, but the gospel in the imperishable finished work. All these things together are good, if you believe with love. (Ignatius, Philadelphians 9.2)

I have too many quotes to list out here. I’ve posted the rest of them below this post if you’re curious.

Final Thoughts from Scripture
This theme of faith and love working together is seen all over scripture as well.

I’ve already mentioned Paul, how he taught that what really matters is “faith working through love.” Paul also writes that love is the fulfillment of the Law. All of the Mosaic Law and the Prophets are summed up in love, in loving God and loving our neighbor. (Romans 13:10) Paul also tells us that of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love. (1 Co. 13:13) Earlier in the same chapter, Paul again emphasizes that without love, faith is nothing. He writes, “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Co. 13:2)

For the apostle John, who apparently taught Ignatius, love is not only important, but a necessity. He writes in 1 John, “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” And conversely, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

Finally, when we read in James that we are justified by works and not by faith alone, the context is clear that the “works” mentioned are acts of love. (James 2:24) They are not ritualistic religious practices that have no bearing on one’s heart for others, but are manifestations of godly love.

It is this other-focused love that is essential for Ignatius—true love that fulfills the law and looks not to please ourselves, but serve others. To use Ignatius’ own words, “nothing is preferable” to this love and faith working together in our lives to the glory of God.


Additional Quotes

For just as their are two coinages, the one of God and the other of the world, and each of them has its own stamp impressed upon it, so the unbelievers bear the stamp of this world, but the faithful in love bear the stamp of God the Father through Jesus Christ, whose life is not in us unless we voluntarily choose to die into his suffering. (Ignatius, Magnesians 5.2)

For inasmuch as I have been judged to bear a most godly name, in these chains that I bear I sing the praises of the churches, and I pray that in them there may be a union of flesh and spirit that comes from Jesus Christ, our never-failing life, and of faith and love, to which nothing is preferable, and–what is more important–of Jesus and the Father. In him we will reach God, if we patiently endure all the abuse of the ruler of this age and escape. (Ignatius, Magnesians 1.2)

Do not let a high position make anyone proud, for faith and love are everything; nothing is preferable to them. (Ignatius, Smyrnaeans 6.1)

I welcomed in God your well-beloved name, which you possess by reason of your righteous nature, characterized by faith in and love of Christ Jesus our Savior. (Ignatius, Ephesians 1.1)

[…] the church beloved and enlightened through the will of the one who willed all things that exist, in accordance with faith in and love for Jesus [Or faith and love of Jesus] Christ our God […] (Ignatius, Romans; Salutation)

Be eager, therefore, to be firmly grounded in the precepts of the Lord and the apostles, in order that in whatever you do, you may prosper, physically and spiritually, in faith and love, in the son and the Father and in the Spirit, in the beginning and at the end, together with your most distinguished bishop and that beautifully woven spiritual crown which is your council of presbyters and the godly deacons. (Ignatius, Magnesians 13.1)

I greet the household of Gavia, and pray that she may be firmly grounded in faith and love both physically and spiritually. (Ignatius, Smyrnaeans 13.2)

 

Why Did Jesus Perform Miracles?

Jesus’ miracles showed that He was not just a normal man or even a prophet, but that He was and is the Son of God.

Showing Himself to be God incarnate through these miraculous signs, Jesus also fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming Kingdom of God, revealing the heart of God towards those oppressed and suffering.  He was more than just a influential leader, here was someone who could dismantle the curse of death itself.

Jesus miracles fulfilled prophecy. Near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus stood before a synagogue and read the words of the prophet Isaiah. This prophecy foretold the restoration of all things—the promised Messianic kingdom.

16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-20 NASB)

The favor of God was seen throughout Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus set people free from sickness and death—but even more importantly—He frees us from sin itself. Death is the natural consequence of sin. He gave sight to the blind, not just physically, but also spiritually. Jesus was the light of God, bring life to all. As He said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12)

The miracles Jesus performed attested to His deity and to the gospel. Jesus encouraged those doubting Him to “believe the works” and realize that God the Father had sent Him. He was not of this earth, but proceeded from God and was God.

37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”(John 10:37-8)

Later in the Gospel of John, it is clear that many still did not believe Jesus, despite the miracles:

But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. (John 12:37)

Despite the unbelief of many during Jesus’ ministry, John wrote down the signs Jesus’ performed so that others might believe Jesus and have life:

30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

The miracles Jesus performed were not the end-goal, rather they had a greater purpose. That purpose was to show people that He was in fact God. The kingdom of God had begun in their presence. The power of sin, along with death and sickness, had begun to be overcome. The gospel was not a human message, but a divine revelation accompanied by the miraculous.

Even though outwardly our bodies decay and eventually die, we know that Jesus is God and that He brings inward spiritual renewal right now. And we eagerly anticipate, in accordance with the gospel, Jesus’ imminent return. The dead will be raised. Death will be defeated and God will restore all things just as He promises.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NASB)

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.


Conclusion

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.

Lessons of Forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer

When Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Mt. 6:12), we learn that seeking forgiveness is a continual process and that when we ask God for forgiveness, we must already be living a life of mercy towards others.

First, through the words of this simple prayer, Jesus teaches us that we need to be consistently seeking God’s forgiveness when we sin, not only when we “become saved.” It must be a part of our daily walk with God. Only our past sins are forgiven at conversion, not future sins that may yet still be committed. If and when we sin as Christians, we must humble ourselves before God in repentance and seek His forgiveness. This is not some formality that allows us to continue in our sin. No, we must be actively turning away from our wrongdoing in deed and not just word. God, who sees our heart, will cleanse us from our sin and purify us anew.

Second, Jesus assumes that when we request God’s forgiveness, we have already forgiven others in our lives. If we haven’t forgiven someone who’s sinned against us, we can not pray this prayer with a clear conscious. In fact, we would be lying to God. Only those that are merciful towards others, not holding resentment and hate in our hearts, can pray truly pray the Lord’s prayer.

Jesus’ word’s immediately after the prayer clarify the importance of forgiving others:

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Just as Jesus taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount that the merciful will be shown mercy (Mt. 5:7), so too here Jesus clarifies that the converse is also true. The unmerciful will not be shown mercy. If we don’t forgive others their sins, God will not forgive us.

Not only does this apply to unrepentant unbelievers, but it also holds true for Christians. In Matthew 28, Jesus relays a parable about the unmerciful servant. The servant is forgiven a great debt by his master. Rather than showing this same mercy towards others, he refuses to forgive the debts of a fellow servant. When the master, who represents God, finds out that the forgiven servant (representing those already forgiven, aka. Christians) has been unmerciful, he gives him over to be tortured for his former debts. Jesus makes it clear that God will treat us this way if we don’t forgive others after being forgiven. He says, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Mt. 18:35)

So when Jesus instructs us to pray, ““Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” there is an underlying truth that our forgiveness of others is necessary if God is to forgive us. As we are merciful to others, God’s mercy will abound to us.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:36-38)


I recently published a related post, analyzing the often heard incorrect belief that at conversion, our present, past, and future sins are already forgiven. Read the whole post here.

Christians Must Not Deny Jesus When Persecuted (Apostolic Constitutions)

The quotations below from the Apostolic Constitutions (375 AD) give historical perspective on the attitude of Christians regarding martyrdom and the eternal importance of never denying Jesus. As you can read below, it was taught that those Christians that were unfaithful to their confession risked losing their salvation. The memories of persecution were still relatively fresh for the church at this point, which makes these quotes all the more impactful.

I’ve made the particularly relevant portions below bold, although it’s all worth the read.

But he that denies himself to be a Christian, that he may not be hated of men, and so loves his own life more than he does the Lord, in whose hand his breath is, is wretched and miserable, as being detestable and abominable, who desires to be the friend of men, but is the enemy of God, having no longer his portion with the saints, but with those that are accursed; choosing instead of the kingdom of the blessed, that eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: not being any longer hated by men, but rejected by God, and cast out from His presence.

For of such a one our Lord declared, saying: “Whosoever shall deny me before men, and shall be ashamed of my name, I also will deny and be ashamed of him before my Father which is in heaven.” And again He speaks thus to us ourselves, His disciples: “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” And afterwards: “Fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (5.1.4)

And a little later:

Let us therefore renounce our parents, and kinsmen, and friends, and wife, and children, and possessions, and all the enjoyments of life, when any of these things become an impediment to piety. For we ought to pray that we may not enter into temptation; but if we be called to martyrdom, with constancy to confess His precious name, and if on this account we be punished, let us rejoice, as hastening to immortality. When we are persecuted, let us not think it strange; let us not love the present world, nor the praises which come from men, nor the glory and honour of rulers, according as some of the Jews wondered at the mighty works of our Lord, yet did not believe on Him, for fear of the high priests and the rest of the rulers: “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”

But now, by confessing a good confession, we not only save ourselves, but we confirm those who are newly illuminated, and strengthen the faith of the catechumens. But if we remit any part of our confession, and deny godliness by the faintness of our persuasion, and the fear of a very short punishment, we not only deprive ourselves of everlasting glory, but we shall also become the causes of the perdition of others; and shall suffer double punishment, as affording suspicion, by our denial that that truth which we gloried in so much before is an erroneous doctrine.

Wherefore neither let us be rash and hasty to thrust ourselves into dangers, for the Lord says: “Pray that ye fall not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Nor let us, when we do fall into dangers, be fearful or ashamed of our profession. Nor let us, when we do fall into dangers, be fearful or ashamed of our profession. For if a person, by the denial of his own hope, which is Jesus the Son of God, should be delivered from a temporary death, and the next day should fall dangerously sick upon his bed, with a distemper in his bowels, his stomach, or his head, or any of the incurable diseases, as a consumption, or gangrene, or looseness, or iliac passion, or dropsy, or colic, and has a sudden catastrophe, and departs this life; is not he deprived of the things present, and loses those eternal? Or rather, he is within the verge of eternal punishment, “and goes into outer darkness, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (5.1.6)

The quotes speak for themselves. Let’s not deny Christ, fearing the temporary, and thus lose the eternal.

If you want to read more from the Apostolic Constitutions, check out my post on the early church teaching that continued obedience after baptism is necessary for salvation.

The Secret to Knowing God More Deeply

Many Christians are searching for a personal revival. They want to truly know God, experience God, and be a true friend of God.

Draw close, and let me tell you a secret. It’s not a secret because God hasn’t revealed it, but because church traditions have too often obscured it. Too often we don’t want to hear the truth, because we aren’t living according to the truth.

If you consider yourself a Christian, you already have faith that Jesus was God incarnate and that He died on a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. You believe that Jesus rose from the dead, conquering death and sin once for all. These are the basics.

However, if you really want to know God, it takes more than just intellectual belief. It takes more than a mental acceptance of the foundational dogmas of Christianity. It takes a true step of faith. You need to trust God enough to begin obeying Him completely and wholeheartedly.

Listen to the words of Jesus:

“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) *said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:21-23 NASB)

Jesus promises to disclose Himself to us—if we keep His commandments and thus truly love Him. The Father loves everyone who obeys Jesus’ words. This seems to speak of a deeper love than the universal love God has for humanity. This love is found when we abide in God. The Father and the Son will come to us when we love God by keeping his commands, and God will dwell with us.

More verses speak of the necessity of obedience for true communion with God. If we keep Jesus commands, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. (John 14:15-17 NIV)

And if we continue to obey Jesus’ commands after believing in Him, we will be truly set free:

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:21-32 NIV)

These verses do not deny the absolute necessity of faith in Jesus. That is a given. But if we neglect walking in obedience to Jesus, we will never truly know God. The true family of God are those that obey God. Jesus said, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)

Obedience is the secret to a deeper walk with God. There’s no convoluted formula to knowing God and true revival. It requires faith, repentance and continued life of obedience to God. It’s so simple. Yet, it still requires a response. We must obey. As we obey, our union with God will grow only stronger and produce eternal fruits that far outweigh any temporary costs.

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:7-10 NIV)

Necessity of Continued Obedience for Salvation (Apostolic Constitutions)

I want to share a series of quotations from the so-named Apostolic Constitutions, compiled and written in the 4th century. The quotations below are based upon an earlier work, the Didascalia Apostolorum from sometime around 230 AD. (Read more at the Wikipedia page and at the Catholic Encyclopedia.)

All of these excepts deal with the importance of continued obedience after conversion.

Much of my early church reading has recently been limited to the Apostolic Fathers, which reflect the earliest Christian sources we have outside scripture. There is clear and compelling evidence in these writings that the earliest Christians believed and taught that believers have to persevere in faith and holy living in order to inherit eternal life. In other words, the early church (in agreement with scripture) didn’t hold to the modern teaching of “eternal security.” Although a slightly later document, the Apostolic Constitutions confirms that the early church continued to confirm the necessity of perseverance for salvation.

This first quotation comes from the opening paragraphs of the first book. The writer makes it clear that those Christians, “ye children of God,” who live disobediently will be considered as “heathen” by God—clearly a stark warning.

Take care, ye children of God, to do all things in obedience to God; and in all things please Christ our Lord. For if any man follows unrighteousness, and does those things that are contrary to the will of God, such a one will be esteemed by God as the disobedient heathen.  (1.1.0)

It goes on to list specific moral instructions, paired with warnings for the unrepentant Christian. Specifically those living in immorality are “condemned by our Lord Jesus Christ” and that “eternal death will overtake thee from God.” This is not the typical language from a Sunday sermon, but good guidance nonetheless.

For he that covets his neighbour’s wife, or his man-servant, or his maid-servant, is already in his mind an adulterer and a thief; and if he does not repent, is condemned by our Lord Jesus Christ (1.1.1)

For if thou art overcome by her, and sinnest with her, eternal death will overtake thee from God; and thou wilt be punished with sensible and bitter torments. (1.2.0)

Baptism was held in very high regard in the early church—much more seriously than in most churches today. After receiving baptism, any Christian obstinately sinning and refusing to repent was considered eternally lost.

Beloved, be it known to you that those who are baptized into the death of our Lord Jesus are obliged to go on no longer in sin; for as those who are dead cannot work wickedness any longer, so those who are dead with Christ cannot practice wickedness. We do not therefore believe, brethren, that anyone who has received the washing of life continues in the practice of the licentious acts of transgressors. Now he who sins after his baptism, unless he repent and forsake his sins, shall be condemned to hell-fire. (2.3.7)

This last quotation considers the spiritual dangers for a previously pure Christian now experimenting with sin. The danger, according to the excerpt below, is that we don’t know when we will die. If we decide to slide a bit and live in sin, who knows if today is our last day? Once we die, there is no more room for repentance. We will be like the five foolish virgins who were not ready for the bridegroom’s return and were “shut-out of the bride-chamber.” If we are living in sin when Jesus returns or when we die, there is no room for confession and consequently forgiveness of sins.

Yet it is very necessary that those who are yet innocent should continue so, and not make an experiment what sin is, that they may not have occasion for trouble, sorrow, and those lamentations which are in order to forgiveness. For how dost thou know, O man, when thou sinnest, whether thou shalt live any number of days in this present state, that thou mayest have time to repent? For the time of thy departure out of this world is uncertain; and if thou diest in sin, there will remain no repentance for thee; as God says by David, “In the grave who will confess to Thee?”

It behoves us, therefore, to be ready in the doing of our duty, that so we may await our passage into another world without sorrow. Wherefore also the Divine Word exhorts, speaking to thee by the wise Solomon, “Prepare thy works against thy exit, and provide all beforehand in the field,” lest some of the things necessary to thy journey be wanting; as the oil of piety was deficient in the five foolish virgins mentioned in the Gospel, when they, on account of their having extinguished their lamps of divine knowledge, were shut out of the bride-chamber.

Wherefore he who values the security of his soul will take care to be out of danger, by keeping free from sin, that so he may preserve the advantage of his former good works to himself. (2.3.13)

The last sentence of the above excerpt (at least in this English translation) does mention the security of the believer. However, in this instance, the soul’s security is contingent on “keeping free from sin.” Otherwise the past life of obedience through faith is of no benefit.

There are several more quotes from the Apostolic Constitution that I may post later, dealing with martyrdom and the importance of confessing Christ, rather than denying Him.

The sheer amount of quotes that speak to this subject of obedience and perseverance is too much to convey in a single post, or several for that matter. Having an historically informed understanding of Christian teaching can only deepen our analysis of scripture and understanding of how modern doctrines have developed over time.

The Prize is Immortality and Eternal Life (Ignatius to Polycarp)

In one of my recent posts, I discussed how the “crown of life” mentioned in James and Revelations is a way of describing eternal life itself. The “crown of life” is the “crown that is life.” Those who persevere in their faith receive this prize—eternal life.

When we study the earliest church fathers, this teaching that eternal life itself is the Christian’s reward is reinforced.

One such instance is the following quote from Ignatius in his letter to Polycarp. Both Ignatius and Polycarp were students of the Apostle John. They were directly exposed and taught from John himself. As such, their writings help us understand how the earliest Christians understood and interpreted scripture. This particular letter of Ignatius was written to Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, as Ignatius was being taken to Rome, where he would eventually be martyred.

Ignatius writes:

The times call for you, as pilots do for the winds, and as one tossed with tempest seeks for the haven, so that both you [and those under your care] may attain to God. Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before you is immortality and eternal life, of which you are also persuaded. (Ignatius to Polycarp; 2. 3; Roberts and Donaldson) 

The prize of the Christian athlete is immortality and eternal life. This prize is not behind us according to Ignatius, but set before us.  It is something we strive for as we seek to “attain to God.”

This quotation reminds us of Paul’s statement to the Corinthian church:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

Ignatius was encouraging Polycarp with the same teaching that Paul himself wrote here to the Corinthians. Paul admonishes us to run the race in order to win the prize. The prize is an imperishable wreath, a reference to immortality (and which also seems to be another way of saying the “crown of life”).

Ignatius, knowing Paul’s intent, doesn’t even bother to use an analogy when describing the reward. He comes out and says plainly that the prize is eternal life. It is immortality.

This is just another tidbit that helps us have an informed, historical perspective of the early church teaching regarding salvation, perseverance, and completing the journey of faith.


Ignatius quotation translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.)