What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Unity, Part 5)

churchofchristAlthough the Churches of Christ often teach God’s forgiveness based on 1 John 1:7, they also teach that sins won’t be forgiven unless and until we —

* Confess the sin to God (and perhaps publicly, if the sin was public)

* Repent of the sin (by no longer doing the sin)

* Pay restitution where appropriate and possible. This element is usually ignored except in the context of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, where it is insisted on.

* Ask God for forgiveness.

Interestingly, this theory is remarkably similar to the Catholic sacrament of penance, except that the Churches of Christ require confession of sin directly to God, not to a priest as God’s representative. But in both cases, the sin remains unforgiven until the necessary steps have been taken.

One consequence of this theory is that those who worship with instruments are damned in their sins, because they’ve obviously not repented of their sin, being unaware that they have sinned.

Of course, unless I’ve managed to confess and turn away from every single sin in my life, I’m damned, too, because only one unforgiven sin is enough to damn. Therefore, this system leaves many a Christian in desperation over his salvation. It’s literally impossible to meet this test.

Where I grew up, our church routinely had an opening prayer, a “main” prayer, three prayers over communion and the contribution, and a closing prayer. We might also pray for those who “come forward” or as part of the sermon. And every single prayer, every single time, included a prayer for forgiveness of our sins — as though we literally could not go 10 minutes without begging forgiveness for unknown and unspecified sins — just in case.

The biblical basis for this theory is highly suspect. For example, the usual proof text for having to confess our sins is 1 John 1:9 —

(1Jo 1:9 ESV) 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The word translated “confess” is homologeo. Here are examples of the other uses in the New Testament —

(Mat 7:23 ESV) And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

(Mat 10:32 ESV) So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,

(Joh 1:20 ESV) He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

(Joh 9:22 ESV)  (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)

(Joh 12:42 ESV) Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue;

(1Jo 2:23 ESV) No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.

What does it mean to “confess” Jesus? If we were to use non-churchy language, what would we use? I think we’d say “acknowledge.”

When John the Baptist “confessed” that he is not the Messiah, he was not admitting wrongdoing. He was acknowledging the truth of the matter. He was certainly not admitting error.

Next, let’s consider 1 John 1:9 in context–

(1Jo 1:8-10 ESV) 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  9 If we ______________, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

V. 8 speaks of saying “we have no sin.” V. 10 speaks of saying “we have not sinned.” Therefore, what surely goes in the blank? “acknowledge our sins.”

Hence, the NASB translates —

(1Jo 1:9 NAB)  If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.

Tyndale reached the same conclusion–

(1Jo 1:9 TNT)  Yf we knowledge oure synnes he is faythfull and iust to forgeve vs oure synnes and to clense vs from all vnrightewesnes.

Bauer and Danker’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, the most respected dictionary of koine Greek, says that the word translated “sin” in v. 9 may also be translated “sinfulness.”

As v. 9 is obviously the antithesis of verses 8 and 10, the intended meaning has to be “if we acknowledge our sinfulness,” not “if we confess each and every sin.” John is no legalist, and he is not prescribing a ritual for forgiveness. Rather, he is making the point that we much approach God with humility rather than arrogance, ready to admit our wrongs.

(Jer 14:20 ESV)  20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you.

Of course, if we are aware of a specific sin, confession of that sin to God is necessary, but not as a condition of forgiveness — or else no one could be saved. Rather, confession is necessary as part of the process of spiritual formation — it helps God transform you so that you are better able to defeat that sin.

Forgiveness, as Paul said back in Romans 5, is already accomplished. The need isn’t to be forgiven. That was handled at baptism. Rather, having been baptized, our fervent desire is to pursue God, to become like Jesus, and to live our lives as people deeply in love with our Creator.

Nothing could be more foreign to our relationship with God than a rule that we are damned for every sin that we’ve failed to confess and repent of. That contradicts Romans 8:1 (“Now there is no condemnation …”); Romans 6:23 (“The free gift …”); and all the other passages we’ve already considered.

On the other hand, the scriptures are realistic about human psychology. If I were to be caught guilty of adultery, I’m definitely on the road to damnation unless I repent — not because I have a sin charged against me but because my heart is far from God. The only way to fix my heart is to give up my pet sin — but if I struggle in so doing, I’m still forgiven because the test isn’t whether I’ve completely forsaken the sin but whether I’m in rebellion. If I desperately try to obey but fail due to the weakness of the flesh — well, that’s what grace is for.

Paul wrote,

(Rom 7:18-19 ESV) 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

(Rom 7:21-24 ESV)  21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

— just before he wrote —

(Rom 8:1 ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

— because it’s all about the heart as changed by the Spirit. It’s not that we defeat sin but that we pick a side and choose to be on God’s.

And so, our traditional interpretation of 1 John 1:7 is largely right. We really are continuously forgiven by God so long as we walk in the light. It’s just that being in the light is not about our obedience to commands inferred from the silences. It’s about whether I have faith and am therefore indwelled by God’s Spirit and whether I am in submission to the Spirit in me.

(Rom 8:9-11 ESV)  9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

In short, if you possess the Spirit, you are saved. Period. But, of course, you can fall away. But this does not happen over and over and over. No, falling away is far worse than most in the Churches of Christ teach.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized, What Must be Preserved of the Churches of Christ?. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Unity, Part 5)

  1. Alan says:

    1 John uses several concepts interchangeably to describe being in a saved state: walk in the light (1:7), loving your brother (2:9), not loving the world (2:15), keeping his commandments (2:3), practicing righteousness (2:29), confessing the Son (2:23 – holding to the teaching that Jesus came in the flesh).

    His purpose in writing was so that we could KNOW that we have eternal life (5:13). Those passages taken together further explain the abstract concept of walking in the light. Consideration of those concepts should reassure a saved person that they are indeed saved. Do you love your brother? Do you love the world? Do you practice righteousness? Do you believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus? Answering those questions should be enough to settle your doubts about your salvation (1 John 3:19).

  2. Ray Downen says:

    Jay omitted a word in this first sentence

    When John the Baptist “confessed” that he is not the Messiah, he was admitting wrongdoing. He was acknowledging the truth of the matter. He was certainly not admitting error.

    He is clearly stating (correctly) that John the Baptist was NOT admitting wrongdoing, but left out the word “not.”

    As for it to be a sin to sing to and for God while musical instruments are in use, no apostle ever, and Jesus certainly never, indicated that our singing to God must not be on and not accompanied by use of ANY musical instruments. I confess that the anti-instrument law is not of God. It’s entirely a human invention.

    My personal PREFERENCE is singing without use of accompaniment, and a detestation of having a band play while Christians are asked to sing to God. My OPINION is that there’s no reason to ever have a drum playing while people are singing any song, or for brass instruments to be competing with the words of any song, even the national anthem.

    Since the words are important rather than just the mood, the words should be what are emphasized, which is hard when a guitar is competing with the singer or setting a different tempo than the words or written music call for. I confess that those who add to God’s commandments are not doing Him or us any favor by thinking their laws are of equal importance with what God has spoken.

  3. Hank says:

    Jay, today’s post talked about what the “Churches of Christ” teach (as does virtually every other post on this blog). However, I think it would be helpful to quantify such allegations. By that, I mean that while there surely are “some” CoC’s that teach what you allege, certainly the vast majority does not. I mean, you attend a CofC right? Does that mean you teach what you claim “CofCs teach”? It would be akin to saying ” Baptist churches teach…” Based upon what a few of the have taught. You should be more clear because it would lead the uninformed reader to be mislead. I have been apart of CofCs in CA, TN, IN, MS, and FL and none of the taught what you simply say “Churches of Christ teach”.

    Second, you need to be more careful in your wording. For example, you wrote:

    “Of course, unless I’ve managed to confess and turn away from every single sin in my life, I’m damned, too, because only one unforgiven sin is enough to damn.”

    Isn’t true that “only one unforgiven sin is enough to damn”? If not, do tell how much unforgiven sin it actually takes to be damned? The Bible simply says, “the wages OF SIN is death”. Sin (any sin), unforgiven is enough to damn. What you meant to say (I believe) is that some believe that sin is never forgiven unless confess and repented of. You didn’t mean to ridicule the fact that any unforgiven sin is enough to damn because that statement is actually true.

  4. Hank says:

    Jay, you wrote:

    “In short, if you possess the Spirit, you are saved. Period. But, of course, you can fall away.”

    Can one who receives the gift of the Holy Spirit forfeit that gift? Does the Holy Spirit move out of a Christian who falls away? Can said Christian come back? If he does, will the HS move back in? If a Christian falls away, is he still a Christian? Is he still born again? If he falls away (and is still a born again Christian) is he a Christian and without the Spirit?

    Have you written here about when the HS leaves and comes back?

  5. laymond says:

    Sounds like we have a lot of excuses for not doing what Jesus said we should do. Like Paul said “his spirit was strong, but his body was weak” .
    I fail to see where an indwelling holy spirit is useful if it is continually controlled by a weak sinful body. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way, the spirit controls the body. What are we supposed to tell our young people? I surely would not preach Jay’s sermon to a group of young people on a church camping retreat. because I remember what young bodies desire, I used to be one, yeah it was a while ago but I still remember.

  6. Hank says:

    Good points, Laymond.

    I remember being taught when I was baptized that I would come up a new man with the Holy Spirit inside me to help/cause/enable me to love and serve God more than ever before. I believed it with all my heart but didn’t ever notice anything being easier. In fact, it was harder.

    I figured “my Holy Spirit” (the one I received), was weaker than other people’s.

    Now, I understand that the Holy Spirit indwells, teaches and helps me to the extent I fill my heart with his words. The same way Jesus in dwelled withing his disciple in John 15. The same way that Christ lives in me today. Now I know that Jesus loves in me exactly the same way that the Spirit of God does and that there is no need to inconsistently view each indwelling of the godhead differently. We can just be consistent…

  7. Hank says:

    It our job to not only be led by the Spirit, but to be filled with him in the first place (Eph 5:18).

  8. Hank says:

    BTW, I’m going fishing for Kingfish ten miles west of St Pete. “Catch” up with you brethren later…

  9. laymond says:

    Hank, ya know bragging is not becoming a Christian. 🙂
    Good luck.

  10. josh says:


    I didn’t see ridicule in Jay’s statement about 1 sin damning. I took him to be serious and he believes that 1 unforgiven sin damning. Of course he also said what you think he meant right at the beginning of the post.

  11. Hank, the very traditional churches of Christ among whom I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s certainly taught what Jay says. Many (I dare say a majority) of people in the pew still believe those doctrines just as Jay has presented them. This may not be true of preachers, especially those under c. 50-55, but is still true of many – especially those trained in some of the schools of preaching. Thank God things are changing, as is evidenced by your experience. However Jay’s teaching is still needed – and many people are not receiving it.

  12. Jay Guin says:


    The Churches of Christ have traditionally taught that one unforgiven sin damns, and I agree. The disagreement is over “unforgiven.” I think that grace is designed so that we remain in a continuously saved and forgiven state (unless we’ve fallen away, which does not happen often but reflect an immutable change in the Christian’s heart away from God). Thus 1 John 1:7 is a central text is showing how we’re forgiven and so saved.

    If we were to imagine that we could have a few unforgiven sins and be saved. well, that would create all kinds of issues. I mean, do I get to pick which sins I can commit and still be saved? No –I’m sure I’d have to have a penitent heart? But those with a penitent heart are forgiven. The ability to be saved with unforgiven sins would only be of value to the willful sinner — hardly the direction the scripture.

    Jesus died so that we should have no sins charged against us at all —

    (Eph 5:25-27 ESV) 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

    (Eph 1:3-4a ESV) 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

    (2Pe 3:13-14 ESV) 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

    (Phi 2:14-15 ESV) 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

    Therefore, we must have a grace that forgives every single sin continuously or else we stand without hope. If we hope in our own ability to live perfectly and to perfectly understand all doctrinal issues, we fail because of —

    (Eph 2:8-9 ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

  13. One thing Jay has been doing lately is to actually articulate that which is both believed and taught in the CoC but which is often not discussed in clear language. On some of these topics, we have developed obfuscatory language which is intended to obscure our actual beliefs. As in,

    “Don’t you teach that only the Church of Christ is going to heaven?”

    To which we reply, “Don’t you think that only those who obey God will be saved?” OR
    “Well, I’m not anyone’s judge. God will decide who is saved or not.” OR
    “Only the church for which Christ died will be saved.”

    Note that wild horses could not pull a clear “yea” or “nay” from our teeth here. And every one of these three answers mean, “Yes, that is exactly what we teach”. After all, those in the CoC who mean to answer “No” simply say….”No”.

    Long ago, I started challenging the CoC’s doctrine of losing your salvation when you sin and not getting it back until you repent. But people did not get really angry with me until I started calling it “the doctrine of intermittent salvation”. Then, the fertilizer hit the ventilator. So, the real problem here was not the challenge, but an accurately worded challenge.

  14. Grace says:

    Jay – “Forgiveness, as Paul said back in Romans 5, is already accomplished. The need isn’t to be forgiven. That was handled at baptism.”

    God accounted Abraham as righteous when Abraham had faith before he did any acts that were righteous. And this same grace is given to all when they have faith.

    Romans 3:21-26 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through FAITH in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by FAITH. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has FAITH in Jesus.

    Romans 4:2-3 Because if Abraham was made righteous because of his actions, he would have had a reason to brag, but not in front of God. What does the scripture say? Abraham had faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.

    Romans 4:5 But you cannot make God accept you because of something you do. God accepts sinners only because they have faith in him.

    Romans 5:1 By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God.

  15. Jay Guin says:


    In court, judges often grant one side or the other a “standing objection” so that they are stipulated to object to every statement of a particular kind without having to interrupt the trial with “Objection.” “Overruled” repeatedly.

    I hereby grant you a standing objection. I and the other commenters here know that you believe salvation occurs at the moment when someone comes to faith. That is not my view, although I believe that all with faith will be saved.

    The point has been made. The disagreement is noted. And everyone here knows the verses that support your point of view.

    Hopefully, the grant of a standing objection will allow us to not endlessly repeat the old Baptist/CoC arguments over the moment salvation occurs.

Comments are closed.