June 29, 2009

“This Grace in Which We Stand”
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Yesterday, I had a rather heated argument with a man who insisted that you would go to heaven only if you died with all your sins forgiven. By that, he meant all your sins had to be confessed and forgiven. If you died in a “state of drunkenness,” you would be imperfect, and nothing imperfect can enter heaven. And since the drunkard is not likely to be confessing his sin, he is not eligible for forgiveness.

A similar attitude often comes up with regard to suicide. A person who takes his or her life is committing murder. Since this is their last act as a living person, there is no opportunity to confess and, therefore, no forgiveness. Suicide, by such thinking, is an unforgivable sin.

This idea has a basis in Catholic teaching about the need for confessing sins to a priest and the idea that it is important to die in a “state of grace.” Catholic theology has qualified this over the centuries so that it is applied only to serious “mortal sins,” and not to everyday human failings. But my argumentative friend had combined that “state of grace” concept with the notion that Christians can and should be perfect and holy, through righteous living and constant confession of any known sins that may come up.

All that sounded very burdensome to me. Not at all like the description the Apostle Paul gave of the Christian life:

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

The key phrase that jumps out at me is “this grace in which we stand.” Our standing with God does not depend on our perfection, or on our scrupulosity in confessing the tiniest sin. It depends on his grace. That’s where we stand.

I really agree with my friend that no unforgiven sin can enter heaven. I believe my sins are forgiven through Jesus’ sacrifice, whether they are confessed or not. His forgiveness reaches into the corners of my being where subtle, dark sins may exist that I don’t even know about.

Our conversation got pretty heated. I’m sure my words and attitude included some sins. His did too. I’m glad I stand “in this grace.” He does too, but he’s probably anxiously confessing sins he committed in his conversation with me. Or, maybe not.