Vengeance is Mine, part II

Continuing from yesterday, here are my thoughts:

Miley’s weak conception of atonement illustrates a confusion between God’s forgiveness, and our forgiveness, which are actually very different from each other. In a very real sense, God does not forgive sins.

Lemme ‘splain.

We Christians are commanded to forgive, for at least two reasons: because we have been forgiven (Mt 6:12, Lk 11:4, Mt 18:21-35), and because we ourselves are sinners (Mt 7:1-5, Lk 6:37-38, Rom 2:1-5). But neither of these reasons to forgive applies to God.

One thing that is similar between us and God, however, is that in general sin against us cannot be undone. There are no returns and no refunds when we purchase death from God with the coin of sin; and when my #1 punches my #2 in the head, there is no amount of punching himself in the head that will actually undo the harm caused. But the biblical example for how we are to forgive those who trespass against us is not to demand propitiation, but to just let it go (seventy times seven times)!

But (contra Miley) God’s justice cannot “just let it go”. See how these two principles are juxtaposed: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'”

You see, God always punishes sin. Every sin. With respect to “just letting it go,” his hands are tied (so to speak), by his perfect and holy justice. To continue to speak of God in lowly, human terms, in Rom 3, I can almost visualize the trinity in a huddle:

[The Father:] Confound it! I love these people, but they have sinned! It would be nice if I could just arbitrarily declare them righteous, but I can’t just look the other way — I must leave no sin unpunished, otherwise I am not just! Hmmm, if only I could think of a way that I could be completely just, and yet still be their justifier…

[The Son:] I’ve got it — you can punish me for their sin! I will humble myself and become flesh, and live the perfect life you require. Then you can give me the justice they deserve, and give them my perfection!

[The Father:] Well, son, it’s a good plan, and it might almost work. But they are so blinded by their sin, they wouldn’t even sign up for such a gracious offer, because it would mean submitting their autonomy to my authority.

[The Holy Spirit:] I can take care of that! I will bring Word of this free offer to them, and regenerate them so that they are aware of their sin, and they will repent and take hold of this offer of salvation.

[The Father:] Excellent — we are agreed then in this Covenant of Redemption! Break on three: 1, 2, 3, Who deserves all glory?

[All:] We do! Trinity! Trinity! Yeaaaaah!

The Bible is clear; every sin is punished. Punishment for the sins of the elect fall on Christ, and the non-elect receive their due penalty themselves. When the Bible says that God “forgives” us, that is just language of human accomodation. But if we remain confined in our own perspective, we forget that the “forgiveness” that we experience comes at a terrible cost, which diminishes our gratefulness.

Surely you’ve seen the bumper sticker that says “Not perfect, just forgiven.” If I thought that anybody would get the point, I would get a bumper sticker that said “Not forgiven, just perfect.”


7 Responses

  1. Or more precisely, “Not forgiven (without cost), just (declared) perfect (and being made more and more like Christ)”. But that wouldn’t fit on a bumper sticker!

  2. I’ll be interested to see the reactions you get to this. I think I get your point, but I’m not sure how others will take it.

  3. While I am not much for goofy sports metaphors, and even less so for bumper sticker theology and piety, I think I get you: you want to make the case for the imputed rightousness of Christ, the active obedience applied to us, the CoW, Machen’s deathbed comfort, all that. Not forgiven, but forensically justified.

    I much prefer Luther’s “Great Exchange” analogy.

    That said, insofar as I might overlook the form of expression, I have always sort of liked the former bumper sticker. It actually helps make my case in our OH discussion, that Xians are just as sinful as non-Xians…it’s just that we also have justification (a term I prefer over forgiveness).

    So, Rube, if we are forensically and objectively declared justified, why all the sunny hoopla about our sanctification when the forms seem to be rather…I don’t know…pessimistic about it? They don’t deny the reality of our sanctification, but they seem to suggest that even the holiest amongst us shouldn’t expect much during the final leg of his pilgrim’s progress…

    BC Article 24

    “In the meantime, we do not deny that God rewards our good works, but it is through his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, though we do good works, we do not found our salvation upon them; for we do no work but what is polluted by our flesh, and also punishable; and although we could perform such works, still the remembrance of one sin is sufficient to make God reject them.”


    “Question 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God?

    Answer. Because, that the righteousness, which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect, and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and also, that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.”

    WCF, XIII (Of Sanctification)

    “II. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence arises a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
    III. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part does overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”


  4. I like the holy huddle — very illustrative. The self-glorying at the end comes across more trite than it should, but aside from that, the unity and cooperation of the Trinity comes across well, especially as it depicts just how crafty God had to be in order to bring us to Himself.

  5. I have always sort of liked the former bumper sticker

    The common bumper sticker is actually a great expression of our perspective as recipients of God’s grace. My proposed bumper sticker is more from God’s decretal perspective.

    The self-glorying at the end comes across more trite than it should…

    I felt that too. Glad you liked it though. When the first printing is done, how many bumper stickers should I send you?

  6. […] one particular lecture, Riddlebarger on B. B. Warfield, which has already inspired material for my own blog, as well as another post in the works for the […]

  7. […] Vengeance is Mine, part II […]

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