Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eternal Security and Its Implications For A Theology of History, Pt. X-B: The Implications of "Unconditional Eternal Forgiveness" In Time

This is part 10B in my series on eternal security (ES). I decided to do a second portion to part ten because I felt the need to go into more detail about unconditional eternal forgiveness. In my post yesterday, I tackled James White’s quote regarding the forgiveness of sins as being past, present, and future. Biblically, the evidence is stacked against White’s position, since we saw yesterday in Matthew 6 (the Lord’s Prayer) that we are forgiven “as we forgive our debtors,” or rather, in the forgiving of those who owe us or have wronged us. We also saw Matthew 18 regarding the King who retracts (takes back) the forgiveness He bestowed upon the unforgiving servant (who, although forgiven, refused to forgive his own servant of his debt). The unforgiving servant went from being freed of his debt, to having his debt restored upon his head and being thrown in prison until he should pay every last cent. Jesus then responded with the words, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:35, NKJV). If all of Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16), then Jesus’ words also apply to us. Unless we forgive others, we ourselves will not be forgiven.
In this post, I intend to discuss what it means “in time” for unconditional eternal forgiveness to be true. The things I write here just may surprise you...
Let’s start this post with a section of James White’s quote from yesterday’s post:
“First, we note that at the time of the death of Christ, all the sins of all believers for the next two millennia were yet future. So if we believe that any of our sins were laid upon Christ, even if we limit this to our past sins, we are asserting that future sins were laid upon Christ in the past. Therefore the idea that future sins can be said to be forgiven in the death of Christ is basic to the whole presentation of the efficacy of His saving work. Our problem lies in the fact that we are caught in the middle, so to speak, knowing all too well our past and present sins but not yet knowledgeable about our future trespasses. If we confess, however, that our past sins were forgiven in the work of Christ long ago, we should not reject that our future sins can be laid upon Him as well” (James White, “The God Who Justifies: The Doctrine of Justification, A Comprehensive Study.” Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001, page 99).
White’s argument above is the following:
  1. Christ died before I confess and believe on His name.
  2. When I confess and believe on His name, my past sins are eliminated (2 Peter 1:9).
  3. Christ died before I was even born to commit past, present, and future sins.
  4. Therefore, since Christ died for my sins, and all my sins are future (since even my birth is future), then Christ died for all of my sin (whether past, present, or future).
In other words, even forgiving my past sin is to forgive “future” sins since they are commited “after” Christ’s death (to Christ, such sin is future). Therefore, if He died for “some” of my future sin (the “some” being my pre-conversion sin), then Christ died for all my future sin (“all” involving my “present” as well as “later” sin).
While this argument might convince James White, it does not convince me. Yesterday in my post, I gave Scriptural reasons for why I disagree with James White. Here, however, I wanna discuss how entertaining White’s notion of “unconditional eternal forgiveness” impacts life in Christ.
In this series, I have talked about what it means for someone to be “unconditionally eternally secure.” If that person cannot fall away from the gospel, no matter what they do, then this security has not only been from conversion forward...the security has also been there from the moment of conversion backward. In other words, the person has always been secure because they were made secure IN ETERNITY! Eternity itself always existed, and God chose to make some secure before time began. If time had nothing to do with one’s election and security, then the person never “became” secure when they received Christ; rather, they were ALWAYS secure, even BEFORE salvation!

__divine decree of election_________________________salvation
Now this may seem shocking to some, but it’s the only way to make sense of an “unconditional eternal security.” If the security is unconditional, then nothing the person does affects the security. What this means is that not even the person’s coming to faith in time affected their security in Christ one way or the other (God already chose them and made them secure before they were born). In that case, coming to faith, for the elect one, is simply a confirmation of an eternal election that God endowed upon that person (an election that has always been in existence).
How does this tie in to unconditional eternal forgiveness, you may ask? This ties in because unconditional eternal forgiveness works the very same way. If a person’s birth is future to the cross, and all of their sin is future, then the individual has always been forgiven of all their sins. In other words, when the person hears the gospel and confesses that they are a sinner, under White’s scheme they are really wasting their time because, even before birth, they have always been forgiven of all sins. So the question becomes, “What does the sinner repent of at salvation?” If there is no sin (since all has been forgiven before their birth), then confession and belief are of no effect. And yet, Scripture tells us that we cannot be saved “until” the moment of confession (Romans 10:9).
  1. _+(Christ on the Cross)______________________human birth
  2. _human sin_______________conversion__________more sin_________

It’s funny that, when we talk of conversion, we always use tensed facts. When a person talks about coming to faith they say, “I got saved.” I heard a sermon on Jude this past Sunday, and the preacher said, “I remember when I got saved.” What he is recalling is a point in the past when he came to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. But if unconditional eternal security and unconditional eternal forgiveness are right, then what the preacher has is an “unconditional eternal election.” That is, he didn’t “get saved”; rather, he has “always been saved.” He has an “eternal salvation”---not “eternal” in the sense that it comes from an eternal God...but in the sense that he has been saved for all of eternity, even before he was born or thought about. Not only can nothing “separate him from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39), nothing has ever separated him from the love of God (not even sin).
And this is why Calvinists spend so much time arguing decretal theology (or the theology of the divine decrees): because, if not even sin has ever separated the elect from the love of God, then God decreed the election of “sinners” (not “believers”), and this happened BEFORE God decreed to send Christ to deal with humanity’s sin. In other words, God was more preoccupied in eternity with drawing His elect to Himself than dealing with humanity’s sin. Jesus, then, coming in the flesh, is sent here only to redeem the elect (while leaving the rest of humanity in their sins).
If one thinks of eternity to time as a line (drawn from left to right as I did in the diagrams above), then one can understand why James White’s argument falls short. I think the truth is found in our affirmation of tensed facts (I “ate,” I “am going,” I “will call,” etc.); our affirmations show that we believe there is real importance to time. Evidently, time is of major importance to God, who, “when the fullness of time had come,...sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law...” (Galatians 4:4, NKJV).

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