Friday, January 13, 2012


This section is perhaps the most disturbing portion of the entire book.  Here, Farley begins by saying believers can “live guilt free, knowing that a perfect lamb has done away with their sins once and for all” (p. 133, emphasis added). This appears to be the primary theme and purpose of the book—to “live guilt free” (p. 133), “more comfortable in the possession of” one’s Christian religion (p. 12), being “content with our choices” (p. 157), to “do away with all of the religious guilt” (p. 36), going “through life being ourselves” (p. 36), escaping “the misery of today’s hybrid religiosity” (p. 36), “…(there being a) distinction between what Jesus taught to the Jews and what God wanted (us) to enjoy under the New” (p. 87), and “to enjoy life free from guilt” (p 156)—in short, to basically feel good about ourselves.   

1 John 1 Was NOT Written to Unbelievers
Sadly, Farley offers an assertion in the fifth section of his book that is full of serious errors in Biblical analysis.  He argues that the first chapter of John’s first letter was to an audience made up, not of true believers, but “…Gnostics who had infiltrated the early church and (who) were teaching false doctrines” (p. 151).  Any good student of Scripture recognizes that none of the letters authored by any of the apostles were written to unbelievers.  None of those letters had unbelievers as the audience.  All of the letters were written to believers in churches or to individual believers, and many of those letters were shared among the various churches.  1 John is no exception.  Authored by the Apostle John,
it was written to the church made up of a congregation or many congregations, to warn and inform them of the dangers of the Gnostic beliefs.  John wanted them to be aware of the dangerous teaching that could infiltrate their ranks.  Yes, Farley is right when he said that John started talking about his own experience with Jesus.  Actually, though, the fact that John was an eyewitness not only established his personal experience, but also his authority as an apostle.

But to say that he wrote to the unbelievers who wanted to teach something other than the true gospel, in order to correct them, is just factually untrue and without Scriptural or historical support. 

Also, Farley said John used the word “we” in 1:9 “ politely combat Gnostic heresy” (p. 152).  None of the authors of the Epistles wrote “politely”, so as to not offend.  They all were contending for the truth, and they were not worried about “offending” anyone—not at all!  Why else would John have warned the church:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.   [1 John 4:1]

Further, John continued from Chapter 1 (remember, there were no chapter breaks in the original):

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  [1 John 2:1]

What things was John writing to them?  John wrote both that which preceded this sentence in v. 1, and that which followed the sentence in v.1.  He wrote the entire letter to “my little children”.

Those to whom John wrote—“my little children”—are who?  Those to whom John wrote are believers!  In each instance, he is addressing those who have remained faithful.  John uses the same term (teknia) six other times in this letter, and always uses the term to refer to saved people.

·   I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.  [1 John 2:12]
·   And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.  [1 John 2:28]
· Little children, let no one deceive you.  Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  [1 John 3:7]
·   Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  [1 John 3:18]
·   Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.  [1 John 4:4]
·   Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  [1 John 5:21]

Certainly, John would not address unbelievers as “little children”.

In his letters, the apostle Paul would state the argument that had risen or may have risen against the truth of the gospel, and then refuted that argument (i.e.: Romans 6).  In the same way, John started out with the heresy threatening the church—Gnosticism—and then wrote to refute the argument. 

To properly examine the Apostle’s first letter, one must have a basic understanding of the non-Christian heresy of Gnosticism. 

The Gnostics taught that Christ was a pantheistic (of nature) emanation, lower than God, who only seemed to appear in the flesh.  To the Gnostic all matter or material was essentially evil, and since Christ was an emanation and not evil, He could not have taken on human flesh.  Gnostics firmly denied the Incarnation of Christ, stating that He was only an apparition (immaterial appearance) who left no footprints.

The Believer’s Bible Commentary by William MacDonald, in its introduction to 1 John, expresses Gnosticism quite well, as follows:

At the time John was writing, a false sect had arisen which became known as Gnosticism (Gk. “gnosis” = knowledge).  These Gnostics professed to be Christians but claimed to have “additional knowledge,” superior to what the apostles taught.  They claimed that a person could not be completely fulfilled until he had been initiated into their deeper “truths.”  Some taught that matter was evil, and that therefore the Man Jesus could not be God.  They made a distinction between Jesus and the Christ.  “The Christ” was divine emanation which came upon Jesus at His baptism and left before His death, perhaps in the Garden of Gethsemane.  According to them, Jesus “did” die, but the Christ did “not” die.  They insisted, as Michael Green put it, that “the heavenly Christ was too holy and spiritual to be soiled by permanent contact with human flesh.”  In short, they denied the Incarnation, that Jesus is the Christ, and that Jesus Christ is both God and Man.

Coupled with the denial of the Incarnation and deity of Christ, the Gnostics denied the vicarious (substitutional) death of Christ on the cross of Calvary.  To the Gnostics, not only could Christ not have taken on evil human flesh, but as a divine being, He could not have taken on sin for any purpose.  Therefore the Gnostic denied that God through Christ paid the penalty-price for the sin of man by means of His spiritual death on the cross of Calvary; rather, they held Christ up as a divine teacher and it was through His teachings and revelations that man was to evolve intellectually into a higher state of self-awareness, which was man’s salvation.[1]

With that understanding, we can clearly see how the apostle was providing a clear warning to the recipients of his letter against this heresy.  Those recipients—believers, those who made up the church John was concerned for—were warned, in no uncertain terms, by John, about the Gnostic “doctrine”.  

“We ARE To Confess Our Sin”
Farley began his critique of confession of sin by the believer when he wrote, “Because Jesus Christ’s sacrifice cleansed us once for all, not repeatedly over time, there’s no method or procedure required for us to remain forgiven.  We’re invited to depend on the onetime sacrifice as the means to lifelong forgiveness, without any strings attached: ‘Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 3:18)”[2] (p. 134, italics in the original).  He continued his argument, leaping to the conclusion—with no Scriptural support—saying, “The bottom line is that no amount of dialoguing with God about our sins will bring us more forgiveness.  No amount of asking God to forgive us will initiate his cleansing in our lives” (p. 135).

Farley was certainly not the first person to address this topic.  John Flavel (1628-1691) a Puritan, wrote about this very thing, identifying this position as that of the Antinomian:

Error 4. The fourth Antinomian error before-mentioned, was this, That believers are not bound to confess their sins, or pray for the pardon of them; because their sins were pardoned before they were committed; and pardoned sin is no sin.[3]

While Farley is correct in saying that our sin has been forgiven, what he misses is the fact that it is our conscience that causes the interference in our relationship with God when we sin against him.  The Psalmist in Psalm 66 said, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened”  (Psalm 66:18).  Praying to our God, asking for forgiveness for having just sinned against him, cleanses the conscience.  Doing so is not to “impel God so that he will actually forgive and cleanse them” (p. 136, italics in original).  Asking for forgiveness is acknowledging our submission to, and dependence upon, our God in heaven.

Jerry Bridges is again helpful in this regard.  

“When we trust in Christ for salvation, God’s court is forever satisfied.  Never again will a charge of guilt be brought against us in Heaven.  Our consciences, however, are continually pronouncing us guilty.  That is the function of conscience.  Therefore, we must by faith bring the verdict of conscience into line with the verdict of Heaven.  We do this by agreeing with our conscience about our guilt, but then reminding it that our guilt has already been borne by Christ” (Bridges, p. 54).  “The satisfaction of Christ is more than a mere theological expression.  It is a concept we need to become acquainted with in our daily lives.  When our consciences are smiting us because of our sin, it is important to reflect upon the fact that, though our sins are real and inexcusable, nevertheless God’s justice has already been satisfied through the ‘satisfaction of Christ’, that the penalty has been fully paid by him” (Bridges, p. 56).

Truthfully, asking for God’s forgiveness is a demonstration of our submission to a holy God, an acknowledgement that we have once again offended him, all with the understanding that he has already forgiven us.  To say “…there’s nothing like a daily list of sins to pore over to relieve us from guilt” (p. 136) is tantamount to saying “I want to feel good about myself, I want to live guilt free, I want to live my life my way, therefore I will not think about how my actions have offended the holy, just and righteous God of the universe”.[4]  Oh, wait, Farley did say all of that—

It is the recognition of what is impure and false in us, in our daily lives, that ought to lead us to confess our sins.  Choosing not to confess one’s sin carries with it a spirit of arrogance and pride.  Choosing not to pray to God, telling him how sorry we are for offending him, is arrogant and prideful.  It is placing self above God.  Again, Bridges:

“It is the blood of Christ, shed once for all on Calvary two thousand years ago, but appropriated daily or even many times a day, that cleanses our consciences and gives us a renewed sense of peace with God.”  (Bridges, p. 58)

Farley also said “…we only have two choices: (1) accept as fact the complete, unconditional forgiveness that God purchased through the crushing of his Son, or (2) create some system of our own to feel better about our sins” (p. 136).  A true believer does understand the complete unconditional forgiveness purchased by Jesus.  A true believer does understand that the abundant, eternal life Jesus talked about begins when one is saved and that life continues into eternity.  But at the risk of repeating myself, to argue that we should not confess our sin to God seems quite haughty, and seems to presume upon God’s grace.  Cheap grace or “free to disobey grace” is not the grace of God described in the Bible.  Confession of one’s sin to God is not a system created by man to feel better about his sin.  Confession of one’s sin is in keeping with the Scriptural injunction in 1 John 1:9.  There, the apostle wrote:

9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  [1 John 1:9]

It is argued by Farley that this verse is “…an invitation to become a Christian” (p. 153). The fact of the matter is that it clearly is not any such thing!  Chapter one was not written to “…Gnostics who had infiltrated the early church and were teaching false doctrines” as Farley alleges (p. 151).  Because he based so much on this exegetical/hermeneutical error, his entire argument melts away like an ice cube in a 500-degree oven.  It completely falls apart.  (See “1 John 1 Was NOT Written to Unbelievers” above)

That error being rectified, one can now examine 1 John 1 in its proper context.

The words “we confess” (homologeō) also means “to acknowledge”, and it is a verb (an action) in the present tense which tells us that it is referring to a continuous or habitual action, which often reflects a lifestyle.  It is in the active voice, which pictures the subject (“we”, believers) as the one who accomplishes, performs, produces or experiences the action or exercises a certain activity (confession).  

The word “forgive” (aphiēmi), which also means “pardon”, is also a verb in the active voice, telling us that it is God (“he”, the subject) who forgives or pardons.  “Forgive” is in the subjunctive mood, which conveys something that possibility or potentiality will happen, and which is used in conditional sentences, such as here, where John writes “If…”  The action (forgive) is dependent upon a condition being met (confession of sin).

Finally, the verb “cleanse” (katharizō) also means “purify”, and describes an action that is not continuous or habitual.  The subjunctive mood explains that the action is dependent upon a condition being met (confession of sin).  Once again, this verb is in the active voice, which represents the action as being accomplished by the subject of the verb (“he”—God).

Finally, one must take a good long look at Hebrews 10.  There, the author declared there is no additional sacrifice for the remission of sins, and in that, Farley is correct.  But to jump to the conclusion that believers are not to confess their sin is to make a leap in theological logic that cannot be defended.

1For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
6in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
15And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
16“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
17then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
26For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
32But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
39But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.  (Hebrews 10 ESV)

Clearly, then, believers are to engage in this continuous or habitual action of confession their sin to God.

The Holy Spirit Does (!) Convict Believers of Their Sin
The third troublesome area of this section begins in Part 4 where Farley made the argument that God the Holy Spirit is not responsible for bringing “conviction” of sin to the life of the believer.  He said, “After a sinful thought passes through our minds, sin can even turn right around and hit us with an accusatory thought: ‘How could I, a Christian, even think something like that?’” (p. 121).  He attributes this thought to “the power of sin” (p. 121).

Farley discusses “sorrow over a wrongdoing”, describing it as “normal and expected in the Christian life” (p. 157).  Interestingly, he then says, “There’s a godly sorrow or regret over sins that leads a person to desire change” and cites 2 Corinthians 7:10.  But he does not expand upon that with the verse in view, other than to say that “…believers are designed for good works, not sins”, that “when we sin, we’re not living out our destiny” and “when we sin, we won’t be content with our choices” (p. 157). 

In context, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:
9As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. 10For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.  For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  (2 Corinthians 7:9-10 ESV)

It is not merely change that one is motivated toward, but repentance.  This “repentance” (metanoia) that results from godly grief leads to restoration to God.  That is the word used by the Apostle Paul—sōtēria—which means “restoration to”.  In order to be restored to God, our relationship with him must have been disrupted.  Yes, our sin is still forgiven—past, present, and future—but our relationship with him is messed up because of our sin.  The godly sorrow Paul talks about results in our being restored—how?  By the confession of our sin to God!

This “godly sorrow” comes about as a direct result of our being brought under conviction by the Holy Spirit, our helper, our advocate, the one who intercedes.  The Holy Spirit is not, as Farley asserts, our “mentor” (p. 161).

In the book, Farley said that “‘convict’ means to find guilty’” (p. 162), and “the root convict- only appears eight times in the Bible.  And not one of those appearances has anything to do with the daily life of the believer!” (p. 162).  Not so.

The Greek word elenchō means rebuke, convict, or expose, and is used 17 times in Scripture.  In Hebrews 12:5-6, we see:

5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."

The word “elenchō” is the word used for “chastises” (“reproved” in NAS).  Who chastises?  God chastises.  Who does God chastise?  Those he loves—believers.


[2] For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (this is the complete verse in the ESV—Farley misrepresents the quotation from the Scripture, quoting only part of the verse)
[3] Flavel’s work can be found here
[4] See the first paragraph in this section, above

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