Forgiveness and Cleansing

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,
10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.
12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-12, NASB).

I’ve been reading Kevin DeYoung’s book “There’s a Hole in Our Holiness”, which as it happens is not as dreadful and satanic as I thought! In fact, I think he actually espouses the gospel, and is aiming at some of the same things that I am from a different direction. If you are reading this Kevin DeYoung, count this as high praise! I don’t say similar things about the “Hole in ‘Our’ Gospel” guy’s book, or Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”. I think Mr. Deyoung has enough respect for the whole of scripture to understand that there are passages which are quite contrary to a radical holiness message that appeals ultimately to the flesh. I don’t quite agree with the book wholesale, though, because the radical grace message is not characterized by moral license, but by a holiness which is born of the Spirit and not the flesh. What I’m saying is, there is a hole in the hole in our holiness. Radical grace is actually our only hope for true and persistent behavioral existential holiness.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-12, which we will use as our proof text, we have Paul addressing this problem. He has preached the scandalous gospel of grace, of Christ and Him crucified for us, and they have taken it to a place of extreme moral license. This is the big fear, the huge objection, to the scandal of real justification! Here it is, happening in real life, blowing up in Paul’s face. We get to see how the Apostle Paul, Mr. “free gift” himself, deals with it when his message gets misunderstood and skewered and abused. Paul describes the problem:

1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.
2 And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst.
(1 Corinthians 5:1, 2, NASB).

There you have it, they are taking grace as license in the worst way. This is what the detractors of 100% free gift easy-believey justification through the blood of Christ alone would say happens. It is inevitable – you really cannot run a church this way. You have to have some rules; there really must persist a “third use” of the law clause in the life of the Christian. You can’t simply tell people that God loves them and that Jesus utterly forgives them. They will go crazy and start sleeping with their stepmothers. The naked gospel is not enough. God cares about how we behave, and given freedom the Christian will go for sin.

I want to carefully examine Paul’s response. He says, the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God. You think the argument will revolve around this, that we either interpret “righteous” as meaning “positional” righteousness or “behavioral” righteousness. One group will say, we are only righteous in that Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to us, and another group will say, clearly in context he means they actually abstain from unholy behaviors. I think these are both good points, but on reflection I think there is a much simpler and more profound way to look at this.

Here is the thing I have been ruminating on: Paul and John count forgiveness and cleansing as ONE THING. Paul says, such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified. As Kevin DeYoung even points out in his book, there is no instance where the word sanctification as we generally understand it (progressively increasing holiness) means what we think it means. It means that in Christ, one time and once for all time, we are set apart with assurance and authority for Christ. It is a powerful idea, and there is nothing gradual or progressive about it; quite the contrary.

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Here is the point I want to drive home. In Romans, Paul presses the point home over and over that justification is all about release from the judgement of our sins:

6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
(Romans 5:6-11, NASB).

It says nothing about being cleansed from sin in terms of behavioral change here, and this is the place where Paul is defining the gospel. However, in 1 Corinthians 6:11 he suddenly gives us the idea that in Christ we are not simply forgiven, but washed. Well, which is it Paul, forgiven, or washed? Justified, or sanctified? Is Paul himself schizophrenic, and this is why we have this schism in the church down to this day?

May it never be! Let’s suppose that it is true that the blood of Jesus shed for us is 100% sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God for all of our sin, for all time. I am justified, and in a purely biblical sense, I am sanctified. It is done. I can’t undo it. Jesus, and Jesus alone, has saved me. I am utterly forgiven, past present and future.

Since I have come to Christ and accepted God’s provision in Him, I acknowledge that my sin is worthy to be so judged. I acknowledge, in my simple need for forgiveness, that I am unclean. In coming to Christ, in my complete release from judgment, I am freed to the uttermost. I have come to Him confessing and loathing and regretting my sin, confessing it worthy to be judged. I have believed that I am utterly forgiven. So I am also cleansed, not simply from the guilt and judgment, but from the sin itself. Do you catch that? Since I am given a public forum at which my sin is judged completely, I am given a place to confess, and that confession is my washing. Being forgiven at the place of my public shame, I am released to go my way, and in that moment my way is to live in gratitude and thanks to my redeemer.

In being justified and sanctified, we are cleansed. The coercion of the law is gone from us, because there is no longer a threat of punishment. We try to go back and retain this threat of punishment, but it is not the threat but the justification and cleansing which are of value against sin. Look at how carefully Paul retains all of this idea in our main passage! Such were some of you, but no longer! You were justified! You were sanctified! You were washed! You have been freed!

Here is a huge clue that this is the right way to take this. Why does he say, in the midst of this discussion of absolutely heinous sin, that all things are lawful? Really? Is Paul a complete antinomian? ALL things are lawful?

I have written elsewhere about how the essence of the fall was to split our notion of the good from a unity into two kinds of good – moral and aesthetic good. The knowledge of good and evil means that we add a moral judgment to everything, and are able and driven to find aesthetic good in things that are not morally good. In Christ, since judgment has been given in a most final way, there is no more judgment. Judgment has been executed in a most final and complete way. We enter back into doing what we do and liking what we like, without a moral judgment, and so all things are lawful. Because we are free, because in Christ all things are lawful, we can go our way. We are no longer under the curse of the knowledge of good and evil. Christianity is not about empowering us to live better under the knowledge of good and evil, it is about rescuing us from the world of good and evil. We do all things, not because our moral will compels us from fear of consequence and retribution, but because nothing masters us. Being free, we drop the dry bone of law and sin and human will and eagerly take up the juicy steak of freedom and sanctification and living from love.

We are forgiven AND we are cleansed, because in coming to Christ and acknowledging His gift we receive both when our sin is justified by His blood. The cross is the door to our resurrection. We die when we give up our own self-justification, and surrender the job to Him. We do not strive to die, and we do not resurrect ourselves. He forgives, He justifies, He sanctifies, He is our hope. We purify ourselves and exert effort from this place, that we have our freedom and live from a holiness of the heart born of Him. Our forgiveness and our cleansing are a unity, you never get the one without the other. However, you do not go back and say, I need to live as if I were cleansed, so I can be forgiven. I say, I will believe in this present time that the blood of Jesus cleanses me from all sin, including this moment’s sin, and I will go to Him and confess it, and so be forgiven and cleansed. I will not believe only that His justification and sanctification are for the past only, or the distant future judgment; I will believe that it is for now. I will confess and be cleansed by Him today.

If a person does not believe in Christ, if they do not believe in radical and thorough and final justification, then it is impossible for them to be cleansed. They may attempt to model what they think is a cleansing, but it is all a sham. They still love the forbidden, they are still living in the world of good and evil. They still lust for the forbidden, because they have not been released from its forbidden allure. If some things are still unlawful, there remains a tree of forbidden fruit in their world, and they will always go for it because their heart wants it. In Christ, the tree of good and evil has the savior nailed bloody and judged to it, and in His resurrection it has died. Now we eat of the fruit of the tree of life freely:

1 And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb,
2 in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
3 And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him;
4 and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.
5 And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever.
(Revelation 22:1-5, NASB).

In Christ we drink form those waters, however imperfectly, now, and eat of the tree of life now, because we have died with Him and are resurrected with Him. These things are the root of our holiness, and there is no power in our fleshly resolve to behave as if we were holy when we are not. However, this holiness is not a pretend theological imputation of something which is not real in us. It is real, it is born in us, and He has done it by His work on the cross. In Him we are justified, we are sanctified, and we are washed! We walk by the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Hallelujah!

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One Comment

  1. “In Him we are justified, we are sanctified, and we are washed! We walk by the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Hallelujah!”

    Amen, Jim!

    Thank you, friend.

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