Edward F. Lundwall, Jr.
As a person leaves prison, unless he understands the levels of his release, he will live in uncertainty! For there are many levels of prisoners release!
There is the full release because new evidence proves his innocence. In which, he not only knows that everyone can now considers him never to have been guilty! Further, the government may compensate him for the time he spent in prison.
Then, there is release because of a pardon. With a pardon, even though he may have been guilty of a crime, he is restored to a condition of full citizenship. He can live as if he had never been guilty. But if the pardon was granted based upon certain conditions that could possibly void his new freedom.
Then, there is the release of probation. Probation is most often granted because of good conduct and confidence that some how his character has been changed. But this release, is very conditional. The man may have to regularly report to a parole officer. If he does not, he may again be imprisoned, especially if he violates certain conditions, like renewing friendships with criminals or a number of other prohibition.
The release on other grounds may be on several bases, such as a shortening of the length of his sentence. This maybe because of conditions, such as a prisoner release because of over prison crowding and a lack of other prison space. But he will still be considered some kind of convict, which will deprive him of many privileges.
Therefore, a clear understanding of the conditions of his release is necessary for the released man to both know what they are to live as good a life as possible.
The same need is found in spiritual forgiveness. There has been and still is a need to understand the kind of forgiveness people experience or can experience. Over the decades, there has been different degrees of forgiveness people can experience. These are offered by the various world religions and even in the various Christian teachings.
Human beings are created to be religious! Teaching about what is sin and forgiveness in the world’s religions are like a game of bingo, people never know what will be proposed.
Confusion in regard to forgiveness is found even in the midst of those who hold that the Bible is the sole rule of faith and practice. Some teach that forgiveness from eternal punishment is eternal, but others teach that it is conditioned upon maintaining necessary works and faith, others teach that it is a part of a predestined salvation.
The Bible, like God, is not the source of this confusion. One of the chief problems of the spiritual life for God’s people has always been remembering what God has given, especially in times of prosperity. In the Apostolic Church, this is the reason many of the Epistles were written. To meet especially this need, the Epistles of Hebrews and 1 John were written. Besides physical and social prosperity, a number of other factors aggravated confusion or understandings. Far too many let both tradition, poor systems of interpretation, and idealism to muddy clear understandings. There is evidence that even pagan practices have corrupted the teachings and practice of a number of very old denominations. Alexander Hislop exposes much of this in his book, The Two Babylons.
In Scripture, forgiveness is accorded not just to individuals, but to groups such as nations, families, and other groups, such as political parties and social organizations. But of most importance are levels of forgiveness in the overriding experience of seeking salvation.
The effects and application of salvation need to be kept in mind for there are tenses of spiritual salvation:
There is the past tense of salvation focusing on forgiveness of the penalty of sin.
While the present tense of salvation has to do with the overcoming sin as a practice.
Finally, the future tense of salvation is from the presence of sin when the individual passes into eternity.
In understanding forgiveness, there is need to understand that there are levels according to the character of those needing it.
Further, the state of grace and opportunity with the recipient must not be confused with forgiveness. In grace, God frequently does not execute judgement at a given time because He is giving people time to be reconciled to Him. This is seen most pointedly in the cases of those before the Flood and the Canaanites before the Exodus. In regard to the preflood people, He said: “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, . .” (Gen 6:3). And about the Canaanites, He said: “. . the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” (Gen 15:16). Even in the New Testament, people are warned not to postpone experiencing personal forgiveness:
“. . now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2).
In the idealism of evangelical outreach, most preach that regeneration, the state of permanent forgiveness, is experienced when a person responds to “the altar call” and/or prays “the sinners prayer.” Romans 10:13 is cited:
“. . for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." Repentance and regenerating faith are presumed, but in the context it is written: “. . for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, . .” (Rom 10:10). It is not emphasized that the “call” must include enough faith to give a progressing transforming experience. Without this many “converts”are disappointed, when they don’t live changed lives. There is wonderment of just what happened and whether salvation and forgiveness can be lost.
Jesus words are neglected when He said: “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. .” (Luke 13:3). And, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, . .” (2 Cor 7:10).
The Lord Jesus made it clear that prayer without a change in life does not save when He said: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 " Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” (Matt 7:21-23).
To avoid this experience, of vain religious practices, the Lord Jesus instructs the reader that one’s life must be oriented as a disciple who builds his life upon the solid foundation of the precepts of His Word.
In my experience, the Lord Jesus counsel to new believers is seldom, it ever used! He said that assurance of real salvation is dependent upon faith enough to produce victory over one’s practice of sin as a lifestyle:
“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 33 They answered Him, " We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?" 34 Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’” (John 8:31-36).
In Romans 7 & 8, the Apostle Paul relates how the experience of full victory over enslavement to sin can be had. He teaches that sin can be overcome by a faith dependant process of trusting in an ongoing dependance on the Lord Jesus. Deliverance comes through attending on the Holy Spirit’s ministry of keeping our minds focused upon the Holy Spirit’s teaching about Christ:
“. . there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Rom 8:2).
The Apostle describes this progressive ministry in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory (i.e., the obvious worthwhileness) of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Forgiveness before regeneration
There is a great need to understand this concept to eliminate so much confusion in professed believer’s experience and in avoiding the shallowness of those who respond to evangelistic appeals.
Christ’s parable of the Sower of God’s Word (Matt 13:3-9, 23-18) teaches four types of experiences in those who in some way are exposed to the Word’s presentation. In three instances, the individuals make responses.
The one has great rejoicing over the experience, but does not endure, He does not let the Word give him strength and character to endure the trials of life.
The next does not keep worldly things from distraction enough to produce fruit. Thereby, they show that they do not have a vital abiding relationship with Christ (John 15:1-16). This is the case of a majority of Christians who can be described as simply having their ears tickled and can only look forward to being rebuked as slothful stewards before Christ’s Judgement Seat (Luke 19:20-26; 1 Cor 3:10-15).
The who let the Word grow in his life produces much fruit in character and service and can look forward to a rejoicing in this life and especially in the life to come!
In the case of the “stony ground” person, his initial rejoicing can be argued that he experienced some kind of forgiveness, for why did he “with joy receive” the Word? Yet did not experience being born again as he “fell away!” For 1 John 3:9, 10, says that spiritual rebirth makes a permanent radical change even “. . does (practices) the will of My Father who is in heaven . .” (Matt 7:21). And, the Lord Jesus requires true disciples to “. . deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23, 24).
This concept that there is a forgiveness before regeneration is clearly seen in the Old Testament: “'The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, . .” (Ezek 33:12). For Israelis in general whenever they sinned, repentance and a sin offering must be made.
This agrees with the parable of the Sower.
That there can be forgiveness before regeneration explains the logical contradiction between the view that regeneration happens instantly with initial faith and such admonitions to believers that they need to apply God’s promises: “. . His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, . .” (2 Peter 1:4).
And: “. . be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; . .” (2 Peter 1:10).
And, “. . whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, . .” (Matt 18:6).
That people can have an initial forgiveness and not be born again is clearly stated in 2 Peter 2:20-22:
“For if, after they have escaped the defilement of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, " A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."
Notice the wording that indicates an initial forgiven state in: “. . after they have escaped the defilement of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, . .”, but with the words describing their natures as “DOG” and “sow” showing that they had not been born again. For rebirth is:
“. . if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor 5:18 NKJV).
And, many other verses used by those who don’t believe in the security of the believer.
Forgiveness in regeneration
This appears most clearly in two passages in the Old Testament. As it was cited earlier concerning a forgiven state without regeneration in Ezekiel 33:12: “'The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, . .” This one is considered in Scripture as “righteous”, i.e., in a state of forgiveness, i.e., . But when he sins his forgiven state must be renewed by repentance and a sin offering.
But when God speaks of Solomon, He speaks of him as “ son” to Himself: “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My loving kind-ness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, . .”(2 Sam 7:14, 15).
The status as a “son” is a purpose of receiving Christ for New Testament believers (John 1:12). In this state, there is no longer a need for forgiveness for the guilt and punishment of sins. For because Christ’s life in His substitutionary death for sins, paid for sins’ guilt and punishment, forgiveness was complete.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:21).
This is the Gospel, the good news, of full forgiveness of sins: “. . the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, . .” (1 Cor 15:1-5).
His death paid for the wages of sin: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23). Therefore, the Lord Jesus described the true believer’s condition:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24).
The Apostle Paul fully describes the true believers state:
“Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Rom 8:33, 34).
So for the born again, since Jesus intercedes there is no way that He will condemn as He will the unforgiven at the last judgement, the Great White Throne (Rev 20:11-15).
Forgiveness for the true believer, the born again
The Apostle John wrote his Gospel for the purpose that the reader might know that Jesus is the God sent Messiah for the Jews and the Savior concerning sin for all (John 20:31). He writes in 1 John so that immature believers might know if they have been born again and have eternal life (1 John 5:13).
The question comes concerning the born again, since he will no longer be judged concerning the punishment for the guilt of his sins, how does he need forgiveness for the sins that he occasionally commits?
In 1 John 1, he teaches that believers will only occasionally sin and how through acknowledging and confessing that sin maybe restored to fellowship with God (vs 6-10).
But in other passages, God’s Word relates that in the process of the Christian life, God has a definite sanctifying purpose, that is, to develop our character (Rom 8:28, 29; James 1:2, 3).
“It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” (Heb 12:7-10).
In conclusion, concerning the levels of forgiveness, the believer that is not yet born again needs forgiveness to maintain a state of righteousness before God and not suffer judgement of eternal punishment. The born again needs forgiveness to maintain fellowship with God and to receive blessing and fruitfulness in his life as a child of God.