Heidelcast 202—What Must A Christian Believe? (19): The Forgiveness Of Sins (1)

This is episode 19 in the series, What Must A Christian Believe? In our survey of the rule of faith, i.e., the Apostles’ Creed, we have reached the tenth article, “the forgiveness of sins.” That phrase does not occur in the earliest examples of the rule of faith. The first time it occurs seems to be in Cyprian, the leading pastor in Carthage, about AD 250. At the Council of Nicea, AD 325, the church confessed “who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven” but the phrase, “forgiveness of sins” did not occur. Cyril, the leading pastor in Jerusalem, c. AD 350 used it, however, and at the first Council of Constantinople in AD 381 it was included in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (which we call the Nicene Creed). By 390 the phrase “forgiveness of sins” appears in the major forms of the Apostles’ Creed. Why did it not appear earlier? The best answer is still the answer that Warfield gave: the church was focused on the doctrines of God (e.g., the Trinity) and Christ. The question of salvation did not really arise until Pelagius began challenging Augustine’s teaching in the late fourth century. Nevertheless, the truth of our righteousness with God is essential to the faith, it is biblical, ecumenical, and Reformation truth confessed by the churches. In our time it is under assault once more from a variety of perspectives, e.g., the New Perspective(s) on Paul, the self-described Federal Vision movement, and even erstwhile evangelicals who are positing two stages of justification or salvation: initial justification sola gratiasola fide and final justification or salvation through good works.



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Show Notes

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    • Prof Clark,

      Apologies for the ambiguity. I think the main thing that jumped out to me was the different motivation for good works described by John Piper and you. For example, in his discussion of Ephesians 5:3-7 Piper seems to say that fear of damnation is a legitimate incentive for Christians to keep the law (in this case, specifically avoiding immorality, impurity and covetousness). In fact this fear is a gift of the Spirit because sanctification is the means by which the Spirit guarantees the salvation of the believer. I’m paraphrasing, but that was the sense I took after listening to the clip several times.

      In contrast you say that the rationale for believers to do good and not evil is *only* gratitude for salvation that has already been achieved and applied to the believer. For example, acceptance with God is “not grounded in, based on or through our obedience, or our faithfulness, or our cooperation with grace, or our sanctification. We obey because we’ve been declared righteous before God, for Christ’s sake.” (25:22 – 25:26).

      I’ve heard a fair bit of the former view from respected local church leaders recently in the context of personal adversity and it has been troubling on many levels. In contrast the assurance inherent in Q&A 1 of Heidelberg has been tremendously helpful and this has encouraged me to read more about reformed theology and church history. Thanks for the resources you’ve made available on this.

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