7) What Should We Expect From A Person Who Only Has One Nature?
IF THE BELIEVER ONLY POSSESSES ONE NATURE, THE NEW NATURE IN CHRIST, THEN WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT?
If the believer possesses only one nature, the new nature in Christ, then we should expect the believer to be remarkably free from sin. We would expect the believer to outlive a quality of life which is truly exceptional. According to Dr. MacArthur, this is exactly what we have:
1) Christians will never be ashamed before the judgment seat of Christ.
In commenting on 1 John 2:28 Dr. MacArthur says that every true Christian abides in Christ (Marks of a True Believer--1 John 2:18-4:21, p. 34). This again brings out MacArthur's failure to properly distinguish between a believer's standing and state. Positionally the believer is always and ever in Christ but as to our actual state, the believer does not always abide in the True Vine, though he is commanded to do so in 1 John 2:28. Here is what MacArthur says about this verse: "When that day comes, John says true Christians will 'have confidence and not be ashamed before him at his coming.' Those who abide in Christ won't be ashamed when He comes...Every individual at the judgment seat of Christ will have praise from God. There is no shame for anyone" (Marks of a True Believer, pp. 35-36). MacArthur goes on to say that only the unsaved people will be ashamed when Christ comes (Marks of a True Believer, p. 37).
In his MacArthur Study Bible under 1 John 2:28 he says this: "Those who are saved will have confidence at Christ's coming because they will be blameless in holiness based on abiding in Christ. In contrast, there will be many, like the soils in Matthew 13, who are temporary look-alike believers, who did not believe, who did not persevere in abiding, and consequently, face only shame at His appearance."
This is a very unnatural and forced understanding of 1 John 2:28. John is writing to the believers ("little children") and he commands them to "abide in Him" (which implies that they can disobey the command). Why should they abide? "so that we may have confidence...and we might not be ashamed." Why would John say these things if shame was an impossibility for them?
Note: Zane Hodges takes the very opposite position from that of MacArthur when it comes to the judgment seat. Hodges goes far to the other extreme by teaching that the judgment seat of Christ will be like hell! The verses which speak of "weeping and gnashing of teeth" and "outer darkness" he applies, not to the unsaved, but to believers and the judgment seat of Christ (see his book Grace In Eclipse). The true student of the Word needs to find the Biblical balance between these two extreme positions. For an analysis of the Zane Hodges errors, click here.
2) Christians always have fellowship with God, and nothing, not even sin can break this fellowship.
MacArthur understands the word "fellowship" in 1 John chapter 1 to mean "partnership" or "partnership in eternal life" (Confession of Sin--1 John 1:1-2:2, Moody Press, pp. 12-13). Thus since all believers share eternal life in common, then all believers have this fellowship. Since believers can never lose their eternal life, then they can never lose this fellowship. Again MacArthur fails to distinguish between standing and state, position in Christ and actual condition on earth. Positionally what Dr. MacArthur is saying is true, but experientially as the believer walks through time he does not always enjoy nor does he enter into the fullness of this eternal life which he possesses.
Here is what MacArthur says about "fellowship": "Being in the fellowship is the same thing as being saved. All Christians are in the fellowship. Don't let someone come up to you and say, 'You're out of the fellowship,' because that would be the same as saying, 'You have lost your salvation.'...We will never be out of the fellowship because it's a partnership in eternal life" (Confession of Sin, pp. 13-14). "Whether or not a believer confesses his sin, he is still in the fellowship, because fellowship with God can't be broken...a sinning believer isn't out of the fellowship; he forfeits his joy" (Confession of Sin, p. 55).
"That genuine Christians are never `out of fellowship' is clear, since this verse equates fellowship with salvation" (MacArthur Study Bible, under 1 John 1:3).
MacArthur's understanding of 1 John again seems unnatural. It forces him to say that in 1 John chapter 1 John's purpose was to invite these people to salvation: "John wasn't inviting the readers of his letter to a fellowship hall; he was inviting them to be saved...he wanted them to believe in Christ! He wanted them to have fellowship with the Father and the Son and to have eternal life" (Confession of Sin, p. 12). But the letter of 1 John was not written to unbelievers, it was written to believers (see 1 John 5:13--These things have I written unto you that believe on the Name of the Son of God). A natural reading of 1 John chapter 1 would indicate that John was writing these things to believers so that they might have fellowship and joy and know how to deal with sin in their lives.
3) Christians are in the light and cannot walk in darkness.
"A genuine Christian does not walk in darkness but only in the light" (MacArthur Study Bible, under 1 John 1:7). "Believers are in the light; they cannot walk in darkness" (Confession of Sin, p. 28). MacArthur is correct in saying that believers are in the light. This is our glorious position in Christ as "children of light." And yet when it comes to our actual walk in time, it is a sad but very true fact that believers do not always walk in the light, otherwise Paul's command in 5:8 ("walk as children of light") would make no sense (why would he have to command the believer to do this if believers always do this?). We would agree with MacArthur, however, in saying that a true believer will not habitually walk in darkness as a way of life. But MacArthur goes too far when he makes statements like this: "Can a Christian walk in darkness? No. How can a Christian walk in darkness if he is one with God, in whom there is no darkness at all?" (Confession of Sin, p. 33,32). He then explains this as follows: "We may occasionally stumble and do deeds of darkness, but if we do, we do so in full light...in God's sight, the blood of Christ continually cleanses us so that no darkness ever enters the light" (Confession of Sin, p.34 and p.28). As we shall see later, MacArthur teaches that God cleanses the sinning believer whether he confesses the sin or not.
In a later book MacArthur even goes so far as to say this: "So all true believers are walking in the light—even when we sin" (Faith Works, p. 167).
Lewis Sperry Chafer made this distinction: "The believer may walk in the dark or in the light (1 John 1:5-6), but that is far different from being darkness, or being light" (Ephesians, p.145). John makes the same distinction. In 1 John 1:6-7 he says, "If we...walk in darkness....if we walk in the light..." The "we" refers to believers. Then in 1 John 2:9 he says, "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now." Notice John says "he" not "we." A Christian may walk in darkness (compare 1 Cor. 3:3), but it is only an unsaved person who is "IN DARKNESS."
4) Christians do not need to confess their sins in order to be forgiven.
Here are MacArthur's strange comments on 1 John 1:9: "Confession of sin is not a condition for cleansing. Salvation is the only condition" (Confession of Sin, p. 48). "Whether or not a believer confesses his sin, he is still in the fellowship, because fellowship with God can't be broken...a sinning believer isn't out of the fellowship" (Confession of Sin, p. 55).
Dr. MacArthur goes against the traditional view of 1 John 1:9 which he calls "the conditional view": "The most popular view of all is that forgiveness is conditional on confession: When a Christian sins, fellowship with God is broken and can only be restored when the sin is confessed. Many of us have heard this formula: Sin breaks fellowship, and confession restores it. However, fellowship can't be broken, so that theory is out" (Confession of Sin, p. 52). "A believer can't have unforgiven sins" (Ibid., p. 52).
How then does MacArthur understand 1 John 1:9? He teaches that this verse is a description of every saved person. Those who are truly saved are those who confess their sins, and these are the ones who have God's forgiveness and cleansing (that is, they are the ones who are saved). " 'God is forgiving those who are agreeing they are sinners'...such a person shows evidence of being forgiven; he shows he is a true Christian...'if you aren't confessing your sins and agreeing with what God says about sin, then you aren't among those being forgiven'" (Confession of Sin, p. 52 and see also his note in The MacArthur Study Bible under 1 John 1:9). Thus according to MacArthur, confession is not something that a believer does to be forgiven, but confession is something that a forgiven believer does (and something that a sinner must do in order to be saved).
Again this shows MacArthur's constant failure to distinguish between the believer's standing in Christ and his actual state in time. That every believer is forgiven no one would dispute. This is the clear Biblical teaching, but this teaching relates to our standing in Christ and not to our walk in time. There is an aspect of forgiveness or cleansing which is very needful in the Christian life and walk as our Lord made very clear in John 13:8-10. Peter had been washed completely (a picture of his salvation bath) but he still needed to have his feet washed (which is the cleansing spoken of in 1 John 1:9 and has reference to the believer's walk through time). Jesus said, "If I wash thee not thou hast no part (partnership, fellowship) with Me" (John 13:8). Fellowship was the issue, not salvation (just as in 1 John chapter 1). Peter was completely cleansed (Jn.13:10) but he still needed to be cleansed! Even so, believers are completely cleansed and forgiven, but when they sin they still need to be cleansed and forgiven, not in order to be or remain saved, but in order to enjoy a walk with God. David was a saved man when he committed adultery and yet he prayed that his sins would be blotted out and that his iniquity would be washed away (Psalm 51:1-2). The same is true in Psalm 32:5 (I acknowledged my sin unto Thee...I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin). Certainly in these Old Testament passages forgiveness for sinning believers was conditioned upon confession. James 4:8 is another verse which indicates that believers with sin need to be cleansed (Though MacArthur calls James 4:7-10 "the most comprehensive invitation to salvation in the epistles." See The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 218).
MacArthur fails to distinguish the forgiveness which is positional from the forgiveness which is experiential (pertaining to the believer's walk). The person who is not forgiven positionally does not have salvation--his sins are retained (John 20:23). The person who is not forgiven experientially does not enjoy the salvation that he has (Psalm 51:12). The person who has never had his salvation bath (positional forgiveness) will be CONDEMNED (1 Cor. 11:32); the person who does not allow Christ to take care of his dirty feet (experiential forgiveness) will be CHASTENED (1 Cor.11:31-32). (Note: We have a study entitled "Two Aspects of Forgiveness" which deals with these issues and which is available from the Middletown Bible Church for $ .25).
5) Christians can no longer live in bondage to sin.
"Believers can no longer be slaves of sin. No genuine Christian lives in bondage to sin" (Faith Works, p. 117). If this is true, then Paul must have erred when he wrote to the Galatians: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1).
How Can A Christian Stop Sinning?
If the believer has but one nature, the new nature in Christ, then how can the believer stop sinning? Actually, it is amazing to think how such a person could ever start sinning? How could such a person have any sin at all! How can there be SIN if there is no SIN-SOURCE at all? How can filthy water come from a pure spring? How can a believer who has only a "new heart" be defiled by sin?
MacArthur's answer as to how a one-nature person can stop sinning is as follows:
"Here is perhaps the most straightforward, obvious means of mortifying one's sin: stop doing it. Too many people think they must wait for an extraordinary experience, a miracle from heaven, a sign from the Lord, or whatever. They think some special divine intervention is necessary to free them from a sinful practice or pattern of thinking. No, that is precisely the error Romans Six refutes. You are free from sin; now stop doing it. You are dead to sin, now put to death the sin that remains. How? `Abstain'" (The Vanishing Conscience, p. 158).
"Do you want to put to death the lust in your heart? Then stop entertaining them...Abstain. Quit doing it" (The Vanishing Conscience, p. 158).
This method of victory depends on SELF--self abstinence, self-mortification, self struggling and striving to put a stop to sin, SELF struggling to quit! God's way is different, "but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body..." (Romans 8:13). Godliness through reliance of self-struggling and self-discipline is a common teaching of those who espouse the reformed doctrine of sanctification. See our paper which critiques Jay Adam's booklet, "Godliness Through Discipline."
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