Can Protestants Obtain Ongoing Forgiveness if the Cross is Empty?
It would seem that Socrates had one thing right for certain: people primarily learn from dialogue. At the end of this post, you will see a meme that I posted last year and was reposted by Facebook’s one-year memory option. Someone on my Facebook list commented on the post: “I agree mostly—the Crucifix is a symbol of death, but the EMPTY cross shows that Jesus conquered death.”
That statement raised an interpretive question in my mind that is the title of this post. No doubt, that’s an agreeable statement, but not Protestant. However, the truthful plausibility of the statement is indicative of Protestant contradiction. Once again, I must say that at least Catholics know what they believe because their crosses usually depict Christ yet hanging on it. So, in authentic Protestantism, what does an empty cross really illustrate?
To some, an empty cross may illustrate that Christ conquered death, and that is true, but again, that’s NOT Protestantism. So what does the empty cross really illustrate according to Protestant orthodoxy? We hear it constantly in sermons and on Christian radio:
“God resurrected Jesus from the dead to confirm that His death was a sufficient sacrifice for sin.”
Nope, that’s a false gospel. Christ’s resurrection was the establishment of the second part of Spirit baptism: being born again of which Christ was the first fruits. And by the way, we are justified by the new birth (Rom 4:25, 1Jn 3:8,9). The first part of Spirit baptism is dying with Christ as He died on the cross, and being resurrected from that death with the same power that resurrected Christ from the grave. This is what makes us literal members of God’s family. A mother who conceives is full of joy upon hearing the news from the doctor—not because she experienced the conception in some dramatic way. We rejoice that we are born again because we believe the report from the word of God—the good news.
If we make the resurrection about the sufficiency of Christ’s death that might mean His death has a continued need for those who think they are following Him, and in fact, that’s the case. Hence, the resurrection is not about bringing many sons to glory in the here and now through the new birth, but rather a confirmation that “Christians” remain dead in trespasses and sin, and Christ’s death on the cross is sufficient for the forgiveness of present and future sin…
…IF we return to that cross for forgiveness.
Look folks, the who’s who of Protestantism in our day say that all of the time in broad daylight and in no uncertain terms. This is nothing more or less than good old fashioned Reformation orthodoxy. That’s the root, and vestiges of its fruit can be seen in varying degrees in every Protestant denomination.
Instead of the resurrection bringing many sons to glory as new creatures in Christ through Spirit baptism, the resurrection merely confirms one’s continued need to return to the cross for forgiveness of present sin. And here is the metaphysical sleight of hand used by the Protestant philosopher kings: “The blood of Christ is sufficient for all sin; past, present, and future.” Yes, yes, yes, absolutely, Christ only died once, BUT His blood (death) is “sufficient” for all future sin. That’s because Protestant orthodoxy deems our sin as yet condemning.
Here is where I am going with this post: this is the EXACT same heresy that the Hebrew writer addressed in the letter to the Hebrews. Said author makes the point that Christ not only died once, but His blood was ALSO ONLY applied…ONCE. While Protestant scholars attest that Christ only died once, they call for the reapplication of His blood to every future sin. The Hebrew writer said “no” to this, and added that Christ entered the Holy of Holies ONCE to sprinkle His blood on the mercy seat for all sin. This is the dominate theme in Hebrews.
Note: in the book of Hebrews, Christ’s death, blood, and ENDING of sin all go together.
Note: in the contra gospel, the blood continues to be applied for a COVERING of sin, not an ENDING of sin. Therefore, apparently, God does remember present sin (see Heb 8:12) which makes another application of Christ’s blood necessary. Of course, we can’t practice continued animal sacrifices as the Judaizes did until the razing of the Temple, so it is affected through ritual. In Protestantism, that equals, church membership, sitting under “gospel preaching” by Protestant philosopher kings, the Lord’s Table, walking forward after a sermon (altar calls), etc., otherwise known as the “means of grace.”
For example, Martin Luther and John Calvin, the two primary undisputed forefathers of the Protestant Reformation, believed that water baptism is required to make one a member of a church, and that continued membership continually reapplies the cleansing of sin affected by water baptism. Said John Calvin:
Baptism is the initiatory sign by which we are admitted to the fellowship of the Church, that being ingrafted into Christ we may be accounted children of God (CI 4.15.1) Hence those who have thought that baptism is nothing else than the badge and mark by which we profess our religion before men, in the same way as soldiers attest their profession by bearing the insignia of their commander, having not attended to what was the principal thing in baptism; and this is, that we are to receive it in connection with the promise, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). (CI 4.15.1).
Nor is it to be supposed that baptism is bestowed only with reference to the past, so that, in regard to new lapses into which we fall after baptism, we must seek new remedies of expiation in other so-called sacraments, just as if the power of baptism had become obsolete. To this error, in ancient times, it was owing that some refused to be initiated by baptism until their life was in extreme danger, and they were drawing their last breath, that they might thus obtain pardon for all the past. Against this preposterous precaution ancient bishops frequently inveigh in their writings. We ought to consider that at whatever time we are baptised, we are washed and purified once for the whole of life. Wherefore, as often as we fall, we must recall the remembrance of our baptism, and thus fortify our minds, so as to feel certain and secure of the remission of sins. For though, when once administered, it seems to have passed, it is not abolished by subsequent sins (CI 4.15.3).
The Hebrew writer’s point? Nope, you can’t separate the ONE-TIME death of Christ from the ONE-TIME sprinkling of His blood; if you do, you are crucifying Christ again and putting Him to open shame again and again.
You can say the cross is empty all you want to, but it isn’t.
We must now once again remember the fundamental lesson pointed out by John Immel at TANC 2012; ALL actions/behavior are driven by LOGIC. No one does anything for no reason; there is logic behind it. There is a “why” behind every action. Some years ago, fundamental Baptists of every stripe went berserk because John MacArthur Jr. (while he was still only mildly confused) suggested that the blood of Christ was merely an idiom for Christ’s death. He suggested that there was nothing mystical or efficacious about the blood of Christ. The backlash seemed totally over the top. Every Baptist preacher I knew couldn’t even talk about it without every blood vessel in their neck bulging.
Why? Because in essence, MacArthur was saying that the blood of Christ was no longer needed to cover sin—that’s what was really driving the controversy and its frenzied reaction. Few recognized what was really behind all of the Scripture stacking from the book of Hebrews. In what seemed to be WWIII over mere semantics really boiled down to the separation of Christ’s death and His blood; the former happening once, but the latter needed for future sin. In his lesser confused state at the time, MacArthur suggested that the Baptist attitude toward the blood was little different than Catholicism, and he was right. Christ not only died once, He offered His blood once as our High Priest in the Holy of Holies.
The efficacy of the blood for present and future sins is, in reality, putting Christ back on the cross; this is the cardinal point of the Hebrew writer. Christ’s blood was an ending of sin, not a perpetual covering invoked by ongoing repentance to prevent condemnation. There is no longer any condemnation for God’s children and God does not remember their present or future sins. Christ took away sin when he died on the cross and offered his blood once—His blood is not a mere covering—it’s an ending.
BOTH happened ONCE, and ENDED ALL sin for ALL people for “ALL time” (Heb 9:26-28, 10:14).
And frankly, you go to the church temple to have your sins continually covered rather than meeting with family to encourage each other unto good works. You are not free to serve love; you are busy keeping yourself “covered by the righteousness of Christ, not a righteousness of your own.”
Curiously, the Hebrew writer also warns that the idea of perpetual application of Christ’s blood leads to willful sin. Why? Because what is the use in preventing sin? You are going to be at the temple every week sacrificing anyway, right? The idea of an ongoing covering rather than an ending of sin ALWAYS leads to a relaxing of the law and antinomianism (the absence of love in sanctification). This is also a major point made by Paul in the book of Galatians; those under the condemnation of the law will fulfill its demand for love through ritual rather than being free to love through a proper understanding of the new birth.
Under the reposting of the meme, I have included my Facebook response which might be helpful on another wise. But in closing, let me say that the Protestant cross is not really empty according to the Hebrew writer. For some who see it that way it is a nice and true thought, but it is not Protestant.
Death is conquered PRESENTLY for “believers”? That’s true, BUT that is NOT Protestant Reformation orthodoxy. Nope. In Reformation doctrine, “saving faith” (note the present continuous tense) is defined as an ability for the yet spiritually dead to perceive the kingdom while remaining dead in trespasses and sin. Being baptized into church membership qualifies one for the “race of faith” which is rewarded with “final justification” for those of the preselected “perseverance” class of election. The other two predetermined classes are the “non-elect” and “the called” or temporary elect who are “not gifted with perseverance.”
Protestantism is predicated on NO ASSURANCE. The only thing one can be certain of follows: if you are not a member of a church you are of the non-elect. Church membership qualifies you to be either “called” or those gifted with perseverance and you basically don’t find out which until the final judgement.
But wait a minute! There is indeed good news according to Protestantism’s “Power of the Keys.” Whatever the elders bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever they loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. So, guess what? If the elders like you, you are probably in! You, at the very least, can claim this when you face Christ; unless of course, the elders are only acting like they like you. Do you now wonder why folks are so reluctant to cross the elders even when they are obviously dead wrong? Folks, this is the Reformation gospel in black and white, and in no uncertain terms.
So, let’s develop this even further. How do we run the race for salvation once we are entered into the race by church membership? Answer: by faith alone. But you say, “Uh Paul, how is ‘running’ by faith alone not a work; ie., by faith ALONE?” Good question. The way this works follows: you live by faith alone, and Jesus does the running. Then you ask: “But that would be a sure thing if Jesus is doing all of the running, no?” Well, that depends on how well you let Jesus do all of the running. You see, according to Protestantism, our strongest tendency as those yet dead in trespasses and sins is to think we can do a good work.
According to Martin Luther and John Calvin, the belief that any person can do a good work whether saved or lost is mortal sin (unforgivable) and the cardinal false gospel. But, if one believes that every work they do is evil, that is venial sin (forgivable) if one seeks ongoing forgiveness that can only be found within the confines of church membership.
Now you ask yet another question: “So, we just don’t do anything at all but believe?” No, you repent of everything you do, including good works; that’s doing something. Because our present sin; ie., EVERYTHING we do separates us from God’s salvation (defined by a fulfillment of the law’s constant demand for perfection), we must keep ourselves saved by continually returning to the same gospel that originally saved us (“We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day”).
And again, access to the gospel for forgiveness of present and future sin can only be found in the church. So, the only good works in our lives are done by Jesus and not us, but how in the world does that work? Well, we hear it all the time: “Jesus did it through me.” What does this mean? Here is how the Reformers explained it. The Christian life is “experienced subjectively.” In other words, we experience some works as if we are doing them, but really we aren’t. However, if we believe that everything we do is evil including what could be perceived as a good work, we believe a true gospel. Hence, our “Christian” life/experience is “subjective.” We don’t know if any good work we do is us or Jesus doing it because the two are experienced in the same way, but it is only a good work if Jesus did it because He is the perfect law-keeper.
This is because every work of every man whether lost or saved supposedly falls short of the law in some way. This is where Christian spiritual bumper stickers like “We are all just sinners saved by grace” come from. Note that “sinner” is in the present tense, and we are still saved by grace, or the same way we were originally saved. Salvation is a PROCESS, not a finished work.