On October 11th, which marked the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement on the biblical calendar, a friend sent me Joseph Prince's Daily Grace e-devotional entitled, "ONLY CHRIST'S ATONEMENT SATISFIES GOD."
In his email message, Pastor Prince rightly pointed us to the shed blood of the Messiah for our atonement, stating, "Because of His sacrifice, all our sins have already been perfectly atoned for. That is why, should we sin, we know that 'we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous'. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins."
Pastor Prince also emphasized that it is not our acts of self-mortification that bring us forgiveness – not whipping ourselves or beating ourselves or fasting for days or praying for hours — but rather what Jesus did on our behalf.
He writes, "My friend, there is no need to climb the Himalayas or whip your back bloody to atone for your sins. No amount of self-punishment or crying can atone for them. Your sins have already been punished fully in the body of Jesus. Only His finished work satisfies God."
This is a life-giving, life-transforming message, and it is one that can deliver us from a legalistic, work-righteousness, earn-your-salvation mentality that plagues many believers.
We are saved by Jesus' righteousness, not our own righteousness! May we never forget that as long as we live.
Unfortunately, as is common with the hyper-grace message, there is a mixture of beautiful truth with potentially dangerous error.
Citing 1 John 2:1-2, Pastor Prince writes, "Now, it does not say that if anyone repents, we have an Advocate with the Father. It says that if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father. The moment a child of God sins, straightaway, his Advocate, Jesus Christ, goes into action to pray for and protect him."
Does that mean, then, that I can continue in sin without consequence? Does that mean that, the more I rebel and the more I turn away from God, the more Jesus forgives me?
You might say, "But that's not the point Pastor Prince was making. He's teaching believers not to get caught up in fleshly efforts of 'repentance' and rather to find forgiveness in the cross."
Of course, I understand that, and I applaud that. Shout that from the rooftops, Pastor Prince. (I know you already do.)
But since he never once says in the article that it's important that we turn from sin to be in right relationship with God (something taught throughout the entire New Testament), and since he wrongly defines repentance (more on that in a moment), how is someone to know that it's important that we do not continue in sin?
Perhaps Pastor Prince could have added in even one line to the effect?
After all, why quote 1 John 2:1-2 without also quoting the next two verses? John continued, "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3-4). Would this undermine one of Pastor Prince's points?
And how about some of these other verses from 1 John? Would the reader of Pastor Prince's e-devotional realize that this, too, was John's message?
1. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:6).
2. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. (1 John 2:9)
3. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him (1 John 3:4-6).
4. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:8-9).
5. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him (1 John 3:24a).
6. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2-3).
Yes, it is absolutely true that Jesus paid for our sins and our atonement is found in Him alone. And it is equally true that He saves us out of sin, calls us out of sin, and as our Lord and King, commands us and empowers us to turn from sin.
That is also an essential part of the gospel message, and in a devotional that misrepresents repentance and states that, "The moment a child of God sins, straightaway, his Advocate, Jesus Christ, goes into action to pray for and protect him," this is a potentially fatal omission.
With regard, then, to repentance, Pastor Prince rightly states that, "Bible repentance is not this idea of hitting or punishing yourself to atone for your sins." But he wrongly states that, "The word 'repentance' is metanoia in the Greek, which means to change one's mind."
Not so (although this a very common error).
"Repentance" in the Bible means a change of mind, heart, and direction. It means the recognition that you are heading the wrong way on the highway, then making a complete about face — with God's help and grace — and heading in a brand new direction. But if you recognize you're heading in the wrong direction — in other words, you have a change of mind — but you don't turn around, you have not repented in the biblical sense of the word.
And how important is repentance for the believer?
According to Jesus, very important.
That's why, five separate times, he told congregations in Asia Minor (to paraphrase), "If you want to be in right relationship with Me, repent and change your ways" (see Rev 2:5, 16, 21-22; 3:3, 19).
To quote the Lord's own words, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:19-20).
And so, as we celebrate the atonement we enjoy in Jesus the Messiah, let us always remember that He sets us free from sin, not to sin, and that forgiveness and repentance go hand in hand.
So, we look to the cross, where our sins were paid for in full, and, empowered by the Spirit of God, we confess our sins (see 1 John 1:9, which is primarily written to believers, not the lost), we renounce those sins, and being washed and cleansed by His blood, we turn away from those sins.
As expressed so powerfully by Peter, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Pet. 2:24-25).
That is the message of atonement.