#517

March 13, 2017

What happens when a person appears before God with unforgiven sin?

Hi Dr. Craig,

I'm a big fan of your work, especially your Defenders class. My question is what happens when a person appears before God with unforgiven sin?

Whether you appear before God with all of your sins unforgiven, or just some of your sins unforgiven, or even just a single sin unforgiven seems to be the same question as the Bible is clear that it isn't a numbers game, a single unforgiven sin is sufficient to separate us from God.

I ask the question because in your Defenders Doctrine of Salvation (Part 7) you state your belief that God cannot forgive a sin until that sin is committed and a person asks for forgiveness of that sin - that you don't believe that God forgives all future (as yet uncommitted) sins.

You state:

"Do you understand the question he is asking? And it is a difficult one. He is saying when you become a Christian God forgives not only your past sins, and your present sin, but your future sin. I think that is a little strange. I know that is often said popularly, but if you think about it – how can a sin be forgiven that you have not committed? Unless you are a tenseless theorist of time – right? [laughter] – and you believe that you are up there in the future and those sins are committed. (I’m thinking of this because I just taught this class on it.) If you think that temporal becoming is real and the future is unreal, that it doesn’t exist, then there isn’t any such sin. So how could it be forgiven?

“You don’t need to have Christ die again or offer something else. The one sacrifice is good for all time. But it does seem to me that John is saying we need to appropriate that sacrificial death by coming to God, confessing our sins, and asking him to forgive us when we commit them. So I think the truth in that statement would be that Christ’s atoning death is sufficient to cover every sin past, present, and future. But that doesn’t mean that when I come to Christ I am forgiven for sins I haven’t committed."

This seems to guarantee that you believe that you - William Lane Craig, like the non-Christian, will appear before God with unforgiven sin, because a) you aren't aware of all the sins you commit and therefor don't ask for forgiveness of them(1 Corinthians 4:4) b) it's impossible to lead a sinless life post conversion and c) there is always some gap in time between the commission of a sin and the asking for forgiveness during which time period you could die.

So, I have two questions:

1) On what basis can you stand before God with unforgiven sin and still get into heaven? How can God allow this to happen?

2) If you feel that you will stand before God with unforgiven sin and still get into heaven, why would you feel that a non-Christian will stand before God with unforgiven sin and not get into heaven?

Thanks

Chad


United States

As I said in my answer to the question in class, this is a difficult question, and so my answer shouldn’t be taken to express a hard and fast conviction. I’m very ready to change my mind if my answer should prove problematic.

The statement “All my sins are forgiven” is a universally quantified statement, and it seems to me that the heart of the issue is what the quantifier “all” ranges over. Does the domain over which the quantifier ranges include future sins or not? My suggestion is that it does not, since given the objectivity of temporal becoming I have not committed any future sins and so can be neither judged nor forgiven for them. I am not guilty of a sin I have not committed! So when we say “all,” we mean in this case “all the sins which I have committed.” What is included in the “all” changes over time as I commit more sins. So when I was 30 years old, for example, it was true that “All my sins are forgiven,” just as it is true today that “All my sins are forgiven,” even though the domain of sins governed by “all” now includes lots of sins which it did not when I was only 30. So rather than say “All my sins are forgiven,” it would be clearer if we said, ““All the sins which I have committed are forgiven.”

Now, as I indicated, insofar as I am in Christ, all the sins which I have committed are paid for by Christ. So if I should suddenly be killed with unconfessed sin in my life, I think that God forgives it upon death. What John prescribes about the confession of sins is the normal way of dealing with sin in our Christian lives, and that’s what I was thinking of in my remarks quoted above. But obviously, I don’t think a Christian loses his salvation, should he unexpectedly die just after having, say, made an unkind remark to his wife.

So in answer to your questions:

1) On what basis can you stand before God with unforgiven sin and still get into heaven?

You can’t. Unless you are in Christ, in whom every sin you have committed is paid for and forgiven, you cannot get into heaven.

2) If you feel that you will stand before God with unforgiven sin and still get into heaven, why would you feel that a non-Christian will stand before God with unforgiven sin and not get into heaven?

The non-Christian is not in Christ, and so his sins are not forgiven, since he has repudiated Christ’s payment for those sins. But the person who is in Christ will stand before the throne clothed in the righteousness of Christ.