[A comment I made yesterday, edited a tad, and moved to be a main post.]
[His laws of pardon are] [r]epentance of sin, confession of fault, and prayer to God for forgiveness. 1 John 1.7 is a passage of great comfort, and it seems there is some covering going on there. But, at some point, there has to be a line that when crossed requires a specific response on my part. If it is not there, then anything I may do, anything whatever, is covered. I could not fall. I don’t understand the Bible to teach that I cannot fall. I do not know precisely where that line is. I do the best I can and trust God to take care of me. The fact that I can’t precisely identify the line, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Here lies a dead man. Something caused him to die. I may not know what the cause was, but he’s still dead.
I struggled with exactly this question for years. Here’s where I came down.
1. That question is so important that God must give an answer.
2. If I have to meet all three standards to be forgiven — repentance of sin, confession of fault, and prayer to God for forgiveness — then I’m hopelessly damned. I’m not even aware of all my sins. I can’t confess what I’m unaware of.
And how likely is it that I die after I’ve prayed for forgiveness and before I’ve committed even a single further sin?
I mean, we teach — correctly, I believe — that there are sins of omission as well as commission. How long may I omit to do good before having to say a prayer for forgiveness? How many prayers before I’m not really penitent?
3. That theory contradicts 1 John 1:7 (among other passages). Hebrews teaches we’re forgiven “once for all” and “made perfect forever” while also teaching we can fall away.
If that’s so, then we’re saved until we fall away. But when do we fall away?
And that led me to read Hebrews very carefully. Here’s the conclusion of it all —
(Heb 10:14) because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
We aren’t perfect, but we are growing in Him. We are “being made” holy by the hand of God himself.
(Heb 10:15-17) The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
We are not forgiven occasionally. Rather, we are “made perfect forever.” The forgiveness we receive at baptism lasts. As John writes, we are continuously forgiven of all our sins.
(Heb 10:18) And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.
We need no further sacrifice because we need no further forgiveness. Rather, our forgiveness is “once for all.”
(Heb 10:10) And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Oh, wow! Reading this for the first time was one of the most moving, incredible experiences of my life.
But then there’s this —
(Heb 10:26-27) If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
If we rebel (Heb 3) by deliberately continuing in sin, there’s no more God can do for us. He made us perfect forever! But we can throw it away.
We throw it away not by being less than perfect. We are, after all, being made holy — but not yet fully holy. Rather, we throw it away by intentionally continuing to sin — by turning our faithfulness away from God and no longer seeking to honor him with our lives.
Do that and you’re damned.
That’s what Hebrews, Romans, and 1 John all teach. And it makes a lot better sense than what I grew up with.
But it makes no sense at all without 10:15-17. God has to be working in our hearts to make us obedient. That moves us from life under law to life in the Spirit.
There are a couple of posts at GraceConversation where I laid out more of the thought in Hebrews —
It takes a little getting used to, but I don’t know another way to read it.