By Patrick Donahue

Those of us who teach that a Christian must repent of and confess (I John 1:9) even his sins of ignorance in order to be forgiven of them are sometimes accused of teaching an "in/out" doctrine by those who teach the automatic forgiveness of sins of ignorance. By "in/out" they mean that we teach that a Christian who is in favor with God, gets out of favor with God by committing just one sin, and gets back in when and only when he repents of and prays about that sin (Acts 8:22). They say that a Christian is not in and out of fellowship with God that often, but is constantly in favor with God even while committing "minor sins," and only gets out of favor with God when he "completely falls away" from doing God's will.

First of all, let's notice that those who teach the automatic forgiveness theory teach an "in/out" doctrine more so than we do. This is an example of their position:
a faithful Christian (in salvation) sins ignorantly (out), is forgiven automatically because he has a "penitent heart" (in), then finds out about it (out again until he specifically confesses it), and then confesses the sin of which he is now aware (back in). Talk about "in/out," this is double jeapardy. The person of the example is receiving forgiveness for the same sin twice. This position is flatly contradicted by God when He said in Hebrews 8:12, "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."

Back to the original question. Is the accusation true? Is a Christian out of favor with God whenever he commits a sin? In Acts 8, we find a Christian in favor with God named Simon (v.13), who sinned by trying to purchase the gift of God with money (vs.18-20). Was Simon in or out of favor with God after committing this one sin? Let's let verse 23 answer the question for us as it reads,
"For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." Notice also that Simon was a "young" Christian at the time that this one sin of "weakness" put him out of the "light" (I John 1:7).

Think of Peter as another example. Peter was in favor with God as he followed Jesus while the Lord was on the earth, out of favor when he denied the Lord three times (Luke 22:54-62), back in sometime before he preached the gospel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), out again when he committed the sin as recorded in Galatians 2:11-18, and back in again whenever he repented of and was forgiven for that sin. Because of his sin as recorded in Galatians 2, Paul called Peter a
sinner (v.17) and said he "walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel" (v.14). "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17) and "Thy word is ... a light", so not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel would be exactly equivalent to not walking in the light. Here again, one sin of "weakness" ("fearing them which were of the circumcision", v.12) put a Christian (even an apostle) out of the light.

How quickly did Uzza go from in favor with God to out of favor when he
"put forth his hand to hold the ark (of the covenant); for the oxen stumbled" (I Chronicles 13:9-10)? How quickly was God indicating to Adam that he would be out of favor if he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, when God told Adam, "for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17)? How quickly did Ananias and Sapphira get out of favor with God when they lied "to the Holy Ghost" about the price of the land in Acts 5:1-11?

Many more Bible examples could be cited. There is not one example in the Bible where a man sinned, even one time, and remained in favor with God. There is not one case in the Bible of a man receiving forgiveness for a sin EVEN AS HE COMMITS THE SIN, as some now teach. There is not one case in the Bible of a man receiving forgiveness for a sin without quitting the sin. Do I believe that a man goes from IN favor with God to OUT of favor with God whenever he sins? I certainly do. That is what the Bible teaches. Isaiah 59:2 reads,
"But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." Romans 6:23 reads, "For the wages of sin is death ...."

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Pat Donahue for the article! He may be reached at:Pat.Donahue@MSFC.NASA.GOV, 4607 Old Railroad Bed Road, Harvest, AL 35749, (256) 721-0726.]

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