Giving to be forgiven

Alms in the Bible

It is widely assumed that forgiveness in the Bible is a yes or no proposition. One is either forgiven or not—end of question. In certain Protestant circles this is often associated with what is known as the “forensic” theory of the atonement. On this view, forgiveness is likened to a judge declaring an accused party innocent. The legal declaration depends not on the spiritual constitution of the forgiven but on the authority of the judge.

This view is at considerable variance from the view of Christians who emphasize the process of sanctification. Forgiveness in this context is not so much a forensic declaration as a process. It begins at baptism with the infusion of justifying grace but presses on toward the complete transformation of the individual. It is not, in any sense of the word, a simple yes or no proposition; it is not the “cheap grace” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer worried about. Salvation entails shedding the old Adam in favor of the new.

 

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