This is a Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.
My question concerns the efficacy of the blood of Christ. Ive heard some pentecostal groups say that “remission” of sin means that God REMOVES sin. My research however, shows that remission means pardon or forgiveness, not removal.
I am aware of such passages that seem to suggest that sins are removed but the Greek and hebrews of these words do not suggest removal but rather forgiveness.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions.” (Psalm 103:12)
“thou wilt cast all their sins [not a record of them] into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19)
“I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions” (Isaiah 43:25)
If sins are actually removed, why do Christian’s continue to sin? Im not questioning the power of faith and the blood, I’m just not sure of the “removal aspect” of repentance and remission. Can you clear me up?
William Lane Craig’s Response
Your misgivings about the idea that remission of sins involves removal rather than pardon are well-placed, LaMonte! The genius of the Protestant Reformers is that they correctly understood the teaching of the New Testament about justification. Alister McGrath highlights three distinctive features of the Protestant doctrine of justification:
1. Justification involves a forensic declaration of righteousness that effects a change in one’s legal status before God, rather than a process of moral transformation that actually makes one virtuous.
2. There is a clear conceptual difference between justification (‘the act by which God declares the sinner to be righteous’) and either regeneration or sanctification (the actual ‘internal process of renewal by the Holy Spirit’).
3. God’s justifying righteousness is understood as an external, ‘alien’ righteousness graciously imputed to the Christian through the act of faith.
Not that the Reformers denied that God infuses righteousness into us, that is to say, makes us righteous by a moral transformation of our character! They affirmed such an infused righteousness but saw it as belonging properly to sanctification, that gradual transformation of character into conformity with Christ’s image by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (II Cor 3.18), rather than to justification. Justification in Paul’s view is a forensic notion, God’s legal declaration that we are righteous. At the heart of forensic justification lies divine pardon. By God’s pardon we are freed of our liability to punishment, so that legally we are innocent before the bar of His justice.
As you say, if remission of sins involved the removal of sin from us, then we should all be perfectly holy and sinless people. But our legal pardon by God no more transforms our character and makes us virtuous people than does a human pardon a convicted criminal. Again and again, the courts have insisted that a person may suffer various disqualifications, despite his being pardoned, because of his flawed character. As Samuel Williston writes, “while pardon dispenses with punishment, it cannot change character, and where character is a qualification for an office, a pardoned offense as much as an unpardoned offense is evidence of a lack of the necessary qualification.” Similarly, while a divine pardon makes us legally innocent before God, free of liability to punishment, it is powerless of itself to effect moral transformation of character. To that end we need regeneration through the Holy Spirit and His sanctifying influence to make us over time into the men and women that God wants us to be. Sanctification in this sense is not a forensic transaction but a moral transformation of character and is not therefore wrought by divine pardon alone. While justification occurs instantaneously and without effort on our part, sanctification is a life-long process that may be painful and difficult.
This Q & A and other resources are available on William Lane Craig’s website.