Thursday, November 29, 2012

Working out Forgiveness

James White and Turretinfan are doing a good job responding to Jason Stellman’s interview about converting to Roman Catholicism (Response 1, Response 2), but I wanted to add my two cents on a few things. About 30 minutes in, Stellman argues if you really understand sanctification you don’t need imputation.  If the Holy Spirit makes us fulfill the law, why do you need the imputation of Christ’s righteousness?  But Stellman’s argument works equally well (or poorly) against forgiveness.  If you really understand sanctification you don’t need imputation forgiveness. If the Holy Spirit makes us fulfill the law, why do you need the imputation of Christ’s righteousness forgiveness?1  If Stellman truly understood forgiveness, he would have no need for penance, purgatory or the Roman Catholic doctrine of suffering, which confuses suffering for sin with suffering for Christ.

Likewise, when Stellman argues that God does not require perfection, so we don’t need the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, this argument applies equally to forgiveness. If God doesn't require perfection, then we don’t need forgiveness.

James White and Turretinfan note Stellman’s disagreement with his own church that God requires perfection.  But Stellman’s argument falls apart upon attempted repair.  Let’s take Stellman’s scriptural example,

Luke 1:6 Both of them [Zachariah and Elizabeth] were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly

Stellman agrees with White and TFan; this righteousness isn’t perfection, it’s just being better than our neighbors.2  Now instead of saying God lets Zachariah and Elizabeth’s into heaven because their good deeds outweigh their bad ones, let’s modify Stellman’s view towards the standard Roman Catholic view and say that their good deeds are involved in God’s forgiving their sins.  So we have works involved in justification without losing forgiveness.  Job done.

But is the text about double righteousness?  Because Zachariah and Elizabeth were fairly righteous and blameless, God forgives them, making them fully righteous and blameless. Certainly not - that goes against Stellman's own observation that the text is only talking about Zachariah and Elizabeth's obedience.  So this passage can only be used to argue there’s no such thing as forgiveness. 

 1 Roman Catholic’s often target the imputation of Christ’s righteousness when addressing justification.  It’s the aspect of justification that’s probably least clear in scripture.  It is in scripture, but I think you probably need to first understand that justification is a legal “not guilty” verdict to see it.  But for the sake of argument, let’s strip out the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and even a not guilty verdict from justification.  Let’s consider justification just forgiveness of sins – as Romans 4:7 says of justification: “blessed is the man who’s transgressions are forgiven”.

2 As an aside, I agree with Stellman that this passage should lead us to think Zachariah and Elizabeth were saved.  But this is because we know them by their fruits.  Justification leads to good works - it doesn't pay to get that one backwards.

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