Monday, July 13, 2009

Definition of Acquittal and Justification

Recently, I was in a discussion with some Evangelical Christian friends of mine focused on the LDS vs. Evangelical concept of Justification, Acquittal, and Forgiveness. A synopsis on the Evangelical criticism of the LDS view on this issue can be found at the following link:

One friend seemed to find fault with President Spencer W Kimball's book "Miracle of Forgiveness" for giving concrete steps to completely forsake sin. Those steps would be to acknowledge the sin, feel sorrow for sin, confess to God, make restitution if possible, and forsake the sin. His contention was that there are no 6 steps or 12-step program required to be forgiven of sin. All a person has to do is accept the real Christ and they are fully forgiven at that moment. At the very moment a person receives Christ, they are receiving the free gift of Eternal Life and the highest reward of exaltation with no further expectations or requirements.

2 Cor. 7: 9-11 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. to repentance: for ye were made. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
James 5:16 confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.
1 John 1:9 if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Furthermore, this friend seemed to say that it was wrong for President Kimball to teach that God forgives only after complete forsaking of the sin. And only fully forgiven when we have completely forsaken all of our sins. My friend seemed to disagree saying that by accepting Christ they are already fully and completely forgiven from the start which includes all future sins and well as past sins.

Now we all agreed that eventually we would all need to have been empowered by Christ to overcome all sin. And that Christ would have the power to empower us to spinelessness and perfection eventually. But the disagreement seemed to be on how you get there. We also agree that there is no peace in sin so that it is advantageous for Christ to begin empowering us to forsake sin as much as possible here in this world because regardless of the eternal consequences, sin still has very real and painful temporal consequences.

It seems many Evangelicals feel they are empowered to forsake sin and be a better person because God had fully forgiven them and guaranteed their future forgiveness. It seems the pressure of the future judgement being off their shoulders in Christ was motivation enough for them alone to want to be better. It seems, to them, that removing the consequences of sin would inspire and empower greater humility and obedience by itself.

LDS would agree that witnessing Christs love would spiritually motivate to forsake sin, but we also recognize that the concrete physical steps of Pres Kimball's forgiveness paradigm also helps forsake sin. LDS are not making a dichotomy here. We are not trying to make a mutually exclusive argument. Yes, witnessing Christs love by His grace is motivating for us to forsake sin, but at the same time, the concrete steps of godly sorrow working repentance, confession, restitution, and ultimately prayer for divine assistance does help to forsake sin. And it works. I have personally experienced it work in my life and seen it work in others lives.

Pres. Kimball giving concrete skills to help us forsake sin is not with the expectation that we will die a completely perfect person having completed the process of sanctification. We have the rest of the Millennium to compete sanctification. But although we wont necessarily be perfect in all things now, we can be empowered to forsake some sins and vices. I have done it with a few. We can also be empowered to start doing certain good things consistently, like paying tithing for instance.

What does Pres Kimball want by writing this book? He wants youth of the church to not excuse themselves in committing sexual sin and experimenting with drugs. He wants new members coming into the church to know that while no one is perfect, that God will empower us in Christ to give up and forsake alcoholism and other substance abuse vices.

My friends also object to when Pres Kimball says that if you recommit a sin, after you have repented you really didn't repent and you really were not forgiven. It is like the initial forgiveness never occurred. The evidence of this is an alcoholic or meth abuser. They cannot touch it after giving it up. One drop or one time is too much, If they do it again, they cannot just stop halfway but more often than not relapse back into the same hole just as deep or deeper then they were before. And it can be harder to repent and forsake again, but obviously possible in Christ.

My friends contended that Pres. Kimball's paradigm denied the Justification and all-sufficient grace of Christ that a believer received when He becomes born again because he says that God does not forgive until a person completely forsakes all sin. What I tried to point out is that Pres Kimball's repentance paradigm does not deny grace or Justification. But it turns out that LDS and Evangelicals do differ in how we interpret Justification.

Some Evangelicals rightly understand that Justification is a legal term. However, it seems that some in our conversation would say that it means that a person is declared innocent and clean from the start. LDS would say that justification is acquittal for the law. But according to British Common Law there were two kinds of acquittal. And that one was "not proven." If Justified and received the verdict of "not proven" you could still be tried again and is not covered under "double jeopardy" where you cannot be tried twice for the same crime. If you are acquitted or justified under a ruling of "not proven" then you can be tried again when new evidence is obtained.

This second kind of acquittal, is how the LDS view the meaning of Justification. By the grace of Christ the believer who has faith in Christ is acquitted from the law, and given a grace period, a probationary state and time to prepare to meet God and repent or allow Christ to empower us to repentance. Christ's righteousness in imputed unto us and because we are innocent until proven guilty, according to God although we are guilty, we are viewed as innocent in Christ. Therefore we can enjoy the indwelling of the Holy Ghost which will empower us to sanctification, greater obedience, and to receive the sanctifying ordinances that LDS believe that God desires we receive.

My friends would say this does not sound like a very forgiving God if he does not really permanently forgiving but just temporarily forgiving and withholding judgement until He has collected further evidence against us. But LDS say that in that time and on into the Millennium, Christ will empower us to overcome all sin, and that process can begin here and now in this world.

LDS are encouraged to repent daily, but the point is to not be endlessly repenting for the same sins, but to focus on one area, allow Christ to sanctify us in that thing, forsake that sin, and then move on to another area. This is the process of Sanctification. It is not continually backsliding, or wheel-spinning, or a dog returning to its own vomit and a sow to its wallowing in the mire. The beauty of LDS theology on forgiveness is that God can overcome and sanctify our flesh, transform us, and purify us, give us a perfect heart, and help us begin to overcome sin. Who wants to be plagued by our sins all the time. The atonement is not just grace but also power to begin to overcome and escape sin because God is faithful and promises to make or weaknesses strengths.

[from Wiki]
In the Scottish common law tradition, an acquittal formally certifies the innocence of the accused, as far as the criminal law is concerned. This is so even where the prosecution is abandoned nolle prosequi. Under the rules of double jeopardy and autrefois acquit, an acquittal operates to bar the retrial of the accused for the same offense, even if new evidence surfaces that further implicates the accused. The effect of an acquittal on criminal proceedings is the same whether it results from a jury verdict, or whether it results from the operation of some other rule that discharges the accused. Scots law has two acquittal verdicts: not guilty and not proven. However a verdict of "not proven" does not give rise to the double jeopardy rule.

From the LDS perspective of the Bible, we all are sinners, fallen and lost, but because of Christ we are forgiven. This forgiveness is Justification. This justification is acquittal. This acquittal is a verdict of "not proven", this verdict of "not proven" puts us on probation. This probationary grace period allows us time to allow Christ to complete the work of sanctification in us so that when we do stand before God at the final judgement we will be like Him. Then we can expect the ultimate forgiveness and be received into eternal life. It is possible to receive this ultimate forgiveness in this life. This is called having you calling and election sure and it is ultimately a personal experience between a person and God.

Christ makes it so that we can have the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. But it is not like we become like Enoch who walked with God or Elijah who was taken up to heaven at the moment we accept Christ and are justified. That's not the end of the process but the beginning. So, the point about acquittal and probation is that we know we are going to still be judged again. we are not saved by "double jeopardy" and Christ will still need to confess our names before the Father and the angels.

Yes, Christ paid for the sins of His people. To others who are not Christ's he will say "I know you not". Although the price has been paid in full already, we still sin and are still adding daily to His burden. All believers or those invited to the marriage, who are all guilty, have been justified, acquitted and given the verdict of "not proven." When we stand before God to be judged and Christ confesses us before his Father and the angels, then we know that Christ had taken upon himself our sins, because he knows us.

That's how He will know us, but He will not make mention of our sins. At the final judgement we will be judged guilty officially and Christ will say that He has paid our penalty for all past sins. And since we will be perfected by that point, we can then dwell in the presence of God. But others who were also justified and acquitted will not have allowed Christ to compete the work of sanctification in them. So, these unwise virgins, "lukewarmers", are those invited to the wedding feast who are not wearing the wedding garment and will find out that Christ never paid for their sins, and that He didn't and doesnt know them.

The Miracle of forgiveness is focused on vice kinds of sin. People want to know that Christ will help them completely forsake alcohol or tobacco or meth or porn or whatever so they can move on. People dont want to endlessly backslide, and spin their wheels. This paradigm is the basis for the 12-step program. This can apply to loosing your temper. I know people who I have never seen loose their temper and have mastered that aspect. I have seen them being seriously provoked and respond in a kind and soft voice and diffuse tense situations. There is no sin that this paradigm cant ultimately apply too. The 6 step paradigm comes from scripture: recognize your sin and that you are a sinner, godly sorrow, confess, make restitution, forsake. Christ had the power to heal us and treat the source of the sickness and not just the symptoms.

Evangelicals seem to focus on motivation and not just doing it. According to the Bible. God says obey because you fear God, obey because you desire reward, and ultimately obey because God loves you. God's love is the highest motivation, but God will not blame you if you obeyed because of fear but he does hope that we obey with a cheerful heart and with thanksgiving.

Evangelicals say that being completely forgiven without fear, or seeking reward makes you better able to repent. You think that God is the ideal parent because it is going to motivate us to remove any concern about a future judgment. Putting our mind at ease is supposed to motivate us. Our whole society is based on personal accountability that we will stand before God and be judged of our works. This is the basis of self government. No , a loving God is not going to remove that motivation. We have a deadline. God is knows we are weak and sinful and that we need time to learn and will empower us to learn. That is His great love. The Real God is a loving but responsible parent and not a "sugardaddy."

1 comment:

Mark D. said...

I believe the proper perspective is that one is forgiven and receives the blessings of forgiveness when one sincerely starts to abstain from the pertinent sin.

However, that forgiveness, and the corresponding blessings, are conditional on continued repentance:

"And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return" (D&C 82:7)