Question about Forgiveness/Arminianism
Received this important question this morning from a visitor:
Question: Hi, About 2-3 weeks ago my church taught from the pulpit through the Lord's Prayer and when it got to Forgive as you are willing to forgive others, the teaching was if you don't forgive someone and you die, you lose your salvation and go to Hell. I took issue with this teaching, and started researching, and I've been on your web site for all this time since looking for answers, but it's still unclear to me. I'm open to your views. I immediately asked the pastor questions and it's clear even though he didn't tell me the answers to my questions that he's Arminian in his thinking. He thinks all kinds of things that I dont' see. I believe in total depravity and he doesn't teach that. I'm considering leaving my church over this, and I want to make sure I understand before I decide to leave. It's not really something I want to do, but I feel that I need to go somewhere the doctrine is better. I just can't understand why someone can think God could save a person and then toss them to Hell. It makes no sense to me. I know I'm a sinner, I know Christ died for me. Isn't that enough?
Hi ____ Thank you for your email and for your willingness to in explain your current situation. The short answer to your question is no, God will not forgive us if we fail to forgive others, but if we are in Christ, He will forgive us for Jesus' sake. Yes, Christ is enough. This kind of preaching is a classic example of a failure to read a Text in relation to Jesus Christ. If we read a Text in isloation without relation to the whole, and without relation to Christ, we almost always end up with a disconnect to the whole purpose of the passage.
Your concern about your pastors' sermon is right on target because the work of Christ is indeed enough to save you completely. In searching the Scripture, it should become clear that any church that teaches that the sinner can either ATTAIN or MAINTAIN their own justification before God is not teaching the gospel. If someone says that we can lose our salvation, it is the same as teaching that what Jesus did for us on the cross was insufficient. That our sin is somehow greater than His grace. If we can lose our salvation then what Jesus did was not enough, which would mean that WE must pay part of the price of our own redemption. The Bible teaches, rather, that Jesus work is sufficient (Heb 1:3; 4:12-16; 10:11-12). Therefore, anyone who teaches that the crosswork of Christ is not enough to save you completely, and that we must add our own works or moral ability to Christ's merits (like your pastor) I am afraid, is teaching false doctrine. It is a low view of Christ and what He has done for us and a failure to read the Bible with Christ's own Hermeneutic (John 1:43-45, John 5:39, 40, John 20:31; Luke 24:25-27 & 44-46). No one can obey the Law perfectly, only Christ has done so, and He did for us what we were unable to do for ourselves. His blood "reminds" God not to treat us as our sins justly deserve every day. That is the whole point of the gospel ... that we are set free from the fear that our performance is what determines our destiny, Christ does. For if our merit was intermingled with Christ's work then our redmeption is incomplete and we will never know if what we have done is enough. We trust, rather, in Christ and His finished work, not ourselves and our ability to keep the law. He kept the law because we could not. The gospel teaches that we justly deserve the wrath of God save in Christ's mercy alone.
Remember that the purpose of the law is to reveal sin (Rom 3:19, 20). The demands of the law are way beyond the moral capacity of any person. But God does not, because of this, lower His expectations toward us. The Law stands and should strike us dead as soon as we read it, but it's purpose is to drive us to Christ who fulfilled the law on our behalf. While the regenerate will forgive those who have unjustly treated them, we cannot expect anyone to be able to perfectly obey this command. To do so is to have a low view of God's holiness. God demands that we forgive perfectly, yet we have this perfect obedience to this law in Christ, and nowhere else. That is why He sent Him in the first place. The whole Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) begins telling by us that the poor in spirit are those who receive kingdom blessings. This means that those who recognize their own spiritual impotence, by God's grace, and trust in the sufficiency of Christ alone, will be blessed. As long as the framework of our thinking is that God will only accept us if we fulfil his law perfectly, has forgotten that the law was meant to be a schoolmaster that drives us to Christ.
Since no one forgives perfectly, nor obeys God's Law perfectly, apart from our grace in Christ, God accepts a contrite heart. This Easter Sunday in church our corporate confession, I believe, expresses clearly what our attitute shoulld be before God:
Almighty Father, God of gods and Lord of lords, Father to the fatherless, Husband to the widow, Defender of the helpless, Judge of all the earth, have mercy on us. We have not sought freedom for the oppressed, even though you freed us. We have not bound up the broken, even though you healed us. We have not forgiven others, even though you forgave us. We withold kindness from the needy, even though you freely gave us your own Son. We are without exceuse, but not without hope. By your power and grace, account our sins to Jesus' bloody death and amend our ways by the power of his glorious resurrection.
We need to be put on the glasses of the Holy Spiirit and have eyes to see Christ in all of Scripture. This means that preachers need to emphasize that the primary application of all Scripture is in Christ, not in us or in some other thing. The New Testament teaches us that we are to be conformed to the image of Christ. All applications of sermons to us must be arrived at via the person and work of Christ. If anything points to us in the Scripture it is only by virtue the Holy Spirit bringing us into union with Christ. Many contemporary preachers have the pietistic tendency to go straight to personal application, but when it is read in relation to Christ the problems this raises can be done away with. This way we preach the Bible in such a way the fulfils the purposes for which the Holy Spirit originally intended.
May the Lord richly bless you and give you wisdom as you face this difficulty.