Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Last round with Locdog

Locdog has graciously agreed to let me have the last word in our ongoing debate about sin and grace. You may see my previous entries here and here. I am sad to see the debate end, because it has forced me to think clearly and defend coherently that which I believe.

I just want to clear up a few loose ends, since our positions are pretty well established. I brought up Kant's ambiguous relationship to Christianity mostly as an aside, but I do believe his focus on the will can lead to a relativistic view of morality. Kant perhaps doesn't do this, but his followers may.

But what is most interesting to me is the difference of opinion between cleansing our sins and covering our sins. Locdog puts it concisely and clearly:

to me, words like "cleansing" are used figuratively in Scripture. whenever we clean something, we make it as though the stains that once soiled it had never existed. while that may be possible with a pair of pants, it's not so simple when we are talking about the human soul. i certainly believe that once we accept Christ as our savior, God no longer holds our sin against us. but if this cleansing notion is correct, then what God is actually evaluating when He decides to let us into heaven is our own righteousness. He cleans us up, checks us out, and, if He doesn't find any spiritual dirt, He lets us in. philosophically, i find this very troubling. we have either sinned or we have not. we either violated God's commandments or we didn't. God cannot clean us in such a way as to pretend that that which did happen didn't. when God looks at the ledger of our lives, He still sees that on such and such a date we lied or cheated or stole, and He cannot erase those things because that would involve God lying to Himself. but the Biblical picture, fortunately, is that our righteousness is an imputed righteousness; a foreign righteousness that is credited to our account.

Locdog finds the notion of God cleansing our sins "philosophically troubling," and then goes on to say that "God cannot clean us in such a way as to pretend that that which did happen didn't." God doesn't actually make us clean, and indeed he couldn't. What he does is pretend we are clean.

Well, I long ago gave up judging scripture by what is philosophically troubling: lots of it is philosophically troubling to me. But I believe the bible to be a witness of the word of God. And in the bible, it rarely speaks of covering sins, but often speaks of washing them. For example, Ananias calls to Paul in Acts 22:16 "Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name." (RSV) Psalm 51 is a plea to God to wash away sin, which includes the plea to "Create in me a clean heart." It doesn't say "Cover over my sinful heart," but rather pleads with God to renew his heart. Ezekiel talks about a similar renewal, as God takes away stony hearts and gives hearts of flesh. I could give many more examples of washing imagery. The beginning of Isaiah includes these words of God: Isa 1:18 "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."

The testimony that sins are cleansed and not covered seems overwhelming. I must conclude that the doctrine of covering is simply unscriptural.

Concerning God's ability to forgive our sins as if they have never happened, look at Psalm 103:12 where the Psalmist says "as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us." East and west are infinitely far apart, and so God removes our sins infinitely far away from us. There are more examples that I could give.

I will not put bounds on God's ability to forgive my sins. I know that he does, and I believe his words when he says that they are really cleansed. I believe this because my Church teaches it, but my Church teaches it because the bible says so.

In any case, I have enjoyed our debate. It has been challenging and informative to me, and I hope it has been the same for Locdog and for the two or three readers who have followed along. God bless!

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