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What Did Jesus Say? (2012) - 7 topics 

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Chapter One: Atonement - Be Reconciled To The One You Offended Or No Effect

Cheap Grace Claims You Receive An Irrevocable Covering Of All Future Sin Upon Faith Alone

The standard faith alone view is that once you believe in Jesus, His atoning blood washes you permanently. There is no other condition to acquire and/or retain atonement than simply a belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Typically, this belief is expressed in a sinner's prayer, either silently or out-loud. After being said, the sinner is told that if truly said from the heart, they are now saved forever, and cannot lose their salvation. Christ's blood was shed for them. They are permanently saved.

Hence, based on atonement, God not only erases your prior sin, but God also will never supposedly see any sin you commit in the future. An example of this common view is expressed by Don Fortner, the Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Danville, Kentucky. He writes in God Sees No Sin 1that once atonement is applied, then God never sees you sin again: "God sees no sin in His people...The Son of God... made an end of our sins, and justified and sanctified us by His blood." This cheap grace teacher directly applies this to our current state of ongoing (unrepentant) sin: "I rejoice to declare to every believing sinner that God will never punish you for your sins, hold you accountable at His bar for your sins,... because of your sins. For Him to do so, He must violate His own justice and overturn the satisfaction of His own Son."

Charles Stanley, two-time president of the Southern Baptists and familiar radio-tv personality, makes it even more explicit. He insists that once you receive Christ's atonement based on faith alone, God never sees you sinning again. You are permanently covered. You need never worry again about sin costing you your salvation. Charles Stanley explains that no sin he can commit can "deprive me of my forgiveness God purchased in my behalf through Christ's blood at Calvary." (Stanley, The Gift of Forgiveness (Thomas Nelson, 1991) at 104.) Stanley writes that once God's forgiveness is given, no sin thereafter can change the atonement previously granted:

But a man or woman who has been rescued once from a state of unforgiveness need not worry. For once 100% of a man's or woman's sins have been forgiven, the potential for being unforgiven has been done away with. The risk factor is zero. There are no more fires from which the believer needs to be saved. (Stanley, The Gift of Forgiveness (Thomas Nelson, 1991) at 36.)(Emphasis added.)

Are Fortner and Stanley correct? No.

Jesus' Doctrine On Conditions To Acquire Atonement


First, let's address the question of acquisition of atonement. Is it solely based upon faith alone? No.

Jesus says atonement has no application until and unless you reconcile with the one you offended. (Matt. 5:23-24.)


Be Reconciled Before Sacrifice


Jesus taught:

(22) but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire. (23) If therefore thou art offering thy gift [atoning sacrifice, doron in Greek and Hebrew] at the [place for sacrifice] altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, (24) leave there thy gift [atoning sacrifice] before the [place of sacrifice] altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy [atoning sacrifice]. (25) Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. (26) Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing. (Matt 5:22-26, ASV with modifications in brackets.)

In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says that before you bring the "sacrifice" 2 (often translated as `gift') to the "sacrifice place" 3 (typically translated as `altar') make sure you are "reconciled to your brother" who has something against you.

What was this sacrifice to which Jesus referred? Throughout the year, the people brought to the priests a variety of sacrifices. Each offering can be called a gift to God, but each gift was intended as an atoning sacrifice -- blotting out sin and cleansing the individual. In its article on "Atonement," The Encyclopedia of Judaism explains: "Every sacrifice may thus be considered a kofer, in the original sense a proprietary gift, and its purpose is to `make atonement' (`le kapper') for the people. Lev. 9:7; 10:17." 4


Atonement is intended to "cleanse the person from his guilt" (`mehatao,' Lev.iv.26, v.6-10)." ("Atonement," Encyclopedia of Judaism.)


Thus, Jesus' reference is to a sacrifice at the Temple's altar. He was talking about atoning sacrifices which the priests received and then made on behalf of the people to grant them cleanness from their prior sin in God's eyes.

Jesus in Matthew 5:23-24 was thus telling His audience that receipt of atonement had to be post-poned when there was still an unresolved sin problem between you and someone else. What does this mean?

Jesus means you must leave your atoning sacrifice at the sacrifice-place if someone has something against you because you sinned against them. There is nothing defective in the sacrifice offered. It is perfect to atone for you. Yet, you are not able to receive its effect because of a defect in your past behavior. Jesus says you must first go home and be reconciled to those you offended. You must come to terms with your adversary while you are still in the way with him or otherwise, the debt you owe him will come back to haunt you later. You will end up in prison. (Matt. 5:25-26.) Instead, only after you appeased your adversary, can you come to the sacrifice-place and offer up the gift God has provided (Jesus) for you as the atoning sacrifice. (Matt. 5:24.)

Hence, asking for atonement to apply to you must be postponed unless and until you have repented from your wrong and taken action that accomplishes reconciliation with the one you sinned against.

Such actions to appease the one you wronged are what the Prophet John-the-Baptist called works worthy of repentance. This topic is also addressed at pages 296 and 339-340 infra and in an online chapter. 5 This pre-condition for atonement will become abundantly clear as we find more corroboration that Jesus meant atonement in Matthew 5:23-24.

Commentators Who Get It Right

Barnes Sees Sacrifice Is Unacceptable Without Repentance

Albert Barnes (1798-1870), a famous commentator and Presbyterian pastor, says this passage means Jesus was saying that repentance in the heart had to come first before the atoning sacrifice would be acceptable to God. Barnes explains:

If therefore, says he, a man has gone so far as to bring his gift to the very altar, and should remember that any one had any thing against him, it was his duty there to leave his offering, and go and be reconciled. While a difference of this nature existed, his offering could not be acceptable.6

Barnes explains the meaning of what is translated as gift really meant the sacrifice you would give the priest to offer on your behalf under the Mosaic Law. And the altar really meant the sacrifice place at the Temple of Jerusalem:

Thy gift. Thy sacrifice. What thou art about to devote to God as an offering. To the altar. The altar was situated in front of the temple, and was the place on which sacrifices were made. [Link]

Barnes then explains what it means that another has anything against you.

Hath aught. Is offended, or thinks he has been injured by you in any manner.

Barnes finally comments on the all important command of Jesus that you must be first reconciled.

First be reconciled. This means to settle the difficulty; to make proper acknowledgment, or satisfaction, for the injury. If you have wronged him, make restitution. If you owe him a debt which ought to be paid, pay it. If you have injured his character, confess it, and seek pardon. If he is under an erroneous impression; if your conduct has been such as to lead him to suspect that you have injured him, make an explanation. Do all in your power, and all you ought to do, to have the matter settled. [Link]

In other words, Jesus meant you must take all steps necessary to reconcile with the party offended. These works are typically called works-worthy-of-repentance. The sacrifice offered at the sacrifice place for you was unacceptable until these personal steps at repentance and works were done first. Barnes did not so clearly draw out the necessity of works-worthy-of-repentance in such stark terms, but that implication is self-evident from what he just admitted.

Campbell Correctly Understands Jesus

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), the American Baptist reformer of Irish descent, founder of Bethany College and inspiration for the Disciples of Christ congregations, 7 had the same view of this passage in his work The Christian System (2d Ed. 1839):

We sin against God always, when we sin against man; and therefore, after making all things right with man, we can only, through sacrifice, which makes the matter right with God, obtain forgiveness. To the same effect, Jesus speaks, Matt. v. 23, 24, "Be reconciled to your brother," first make the matter right with him, "and then come and offer your gift." Id., at 55  or (1843) at 58. (Emphasis added.)

Thus, our forgiveness from God is contingent on His accepting a sacrifice on our behalf.

Campbell then interprets Jesus as saying the effectiveness of sacrifice as atonement is in turn contingent on "making the matter [of earlier sin] right with God."

Campbell is thus understanding Jesus without being confused by the vague "gift" translation within the KJV version of Matthew 5:23-24. Jesus says first make the matter right with the one you offended, and then offer your gift (sacrifice). Otherwise, the sacrifice is ineffectual, and you have no forgiveness with God. 

Jesus Is Simply Repeating The Prophets

What corroborates that Barnes and Campbell are reading Jesus correctly is that Jesus is simply repeating a common lesson in the Prophets. The Prophets often had to correct a false notion that atonement was solely based on the act of sacrifice. The Prophets repeatedly insisted atonement only could cover a person who had truly first repented and took steps of reform. Otherwise the atonement had no effect. Atonement was not magic. (Jer. 7:20-25; Mic. 6:6-8 8 Joel 2:13, Hos.14:1-2 9 and Mal. 1:10, 10 Mal. 3:3-4. Cf. Isaiah 27:9.)

One good synopsis of these prophetic passages says: "The Prophets disparaged sacrifices that were offered without...a determined turning from sin and returning to God by striving after righteousness." 11 [See Notes at end.]

Treating Atonement Like Magic Condemned in 1 Samuel 15

God gave us an illustration from the life of King Saul of this principle. It demonstrates how abhorrent it is to God that people treat atonement as effectual for those who are sinning and unrepentant. God was incredibly angry with Saul for thinking bringing atonement to God had some magical power for even a disobedient person to receive forgiveness.

Who was King Saul? He was a Benjamite who assumed he could use God's sacrifice system without any condition of obedience. Saul was told to take no booty from an enemy of God. He was supposed to destroy their livestock and possessions. Saul did not do so. He had the intent of offering it to God in a sacrifice. God's response was not to accuse Saul of hypocrisy. God never suggests that Saul had no intent to make a sacrifice offering with the war booty. God's response takes Saul at his word in that respect. Rather, God rejects the Benjamite Saul's idea that a disobedient person's sacrifice has any value. Obedience must come before sacrifice. Obedience is the indispensable condition to bring an effectual sacrifice offering. This is the same lesson Jesus was teaching in Matthew 5:23-24.

This illustration is found in 1 Samuel 15:22-23. Saul disobeyed God but was planning on offering an atoning sacrifice using the booty he recovered. God said this was pure abuse of the principle of cleansing from atonement. The prophet Samuel on behalf of God rebukes the Benjamite Saul's logic.

22 Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.

Hence, God places obedience ahead of sacrifice. The gift of an atoning sacrifice from the disobedient is rejected.

Thus, the Prophet Samuel taught when you disobey the Lord, you "have rejected the word of the Lord." The fact you intend to later ask for atonement from the Lord by some sacrifice you call upon (e.g., the gift of Jesus' sacrifice) does not wipe out the disobedience. It makes it worse.

It is equivalent to the sin of where man tries to control God: divination.

The Prophet Samuel says this is also presumption on your part. You are presuming on God's good nature that He will accept such sacrificial atonement even when you disobey God in expectation you can cleanse such acts by atonement.

Finally, Samuel says it is idolatry because your sin is worshipping your own power to set the terms of what God must accept. You become your own idol. You become your own demi-god, if you will, who can set the terms of when God must apply atonement to you.

Consequently, God does not accept atonement, even of an innocent lamb, on behalf of the disobedient. To think so is to practice divination, rebellion, idolatry and iniquity. 

Jesus Was Also Actually Quoting A Common Temple Doctrine of His Day

Jesus' teaching on leaving your sacrifice at the altar and being reconciled first with the one you sinned against (Matt. 5:23-24) was a deliberate paraphrase of a common temple teaching of that day. This lesson was given in relation to atonement. To implement the prophets' lesson that atonement was not magic, but conditional on repentance and reform, the Levite priests created the Days of Ten.

What were the Days of Ten?

In Judaism of Jesus' day, there was a ten day period leading up to the Day of Atonement. (The Day of Atonement was one special day where the entire people were simultaneously to submit to atonement procedures in the Law. Other personal atonements took place during the year.) This ten day period "was designated for seeking forgiveness between individuals." 12 Brad Young explains what this means:

A person was not prepared to seek divine mercy during the great fast on the Day of Atonement if he or she had not first sought reconciliation with his neighbor....The preparation for this [Day]...focused on the necessity to forgive one another on a personal level so as to approach God without a bitter heart. Mercy from above depended upon showing mercy to those below. 13

The temple teachings from Jesus' era on the Days of Ten used almost identical language as used by Jesus. The teachings said that for "transgressions that are between a person and his or her neighbor, the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if one has first appeased his neighbor." 14 It specifies that the Day of Atonement cannot effect atonement unless a person first makes amends for transgressions against his or her neighbor.

Therefore, Jesus was clearly paraphrasing this temple principle on the atonement. Jesus laid down the identical condition:

  • before an atonement offering, go be reconciled to the one you offended (Jesus in Matthew 5:23-24).

is the same as

  • before an atonement offering, go and first appease the neighbor you offended (Temple lessons on Day of Atonement).

Jesus was obviously extending the principle from the Days of Ten to every sacrifice you bring to the priests throughout the year. There were many atoning sacrifices throughout the Biblical calendar year. Jesus did not restrict the principle of the Days of Ten simply to the Day of Atonement. Jesus made it an every-sacrifice principle.

Therefore, once you recognize Jesus' effort to expand temple doctrine to an every-sacrifice principle, you see Jesus is talking about a condition to atonement.

Jesus' meaning is clear: before you can bring your sacrifice (i.e., any one of the many atoning sacrifices throughout the year), you must follow the Days of Ten principle. You must first seek reconciliation with the one you sinned against. It is implied that absent such action, the atonement would be ineffectual to cleanse you from sin. 

Is There Any Necessary Maintenance Of The Atonement Covering?

As we quoted at the outset, the second claim by the cheap grace doctrine of Stanley and Fortner was that once the atonement covering applies, God never sees you sinning again. You are supposedly never in jeopardy of losing the forgiveness of God once the atonement initiates to protect you. Is this correct?

Once again, cheap grace has the wrong answer. 

John 15:1-6: How Are Those Clean Now Kept Clean in the Future?

Remember that atonement is intended to "cleanse the person from his guilt" (`mehatao,' Lev.iv.26, v.6-10)." ("Atonement," Encyclopedia of Judaism.)

Jesus in the Metaphor of the Vine (John 15:1-10) is going to pick up on that cleansing theme. We will learn, by comparing it to 1 John 1:7-9, that Jesus means to refer to the cleansing of atonement in the Metaphor of the Vine.

First, in the Metaphor of the Vine, Jesus is speaking to eleven of the twelve. Judas has left. Jesus says right now they are all "clean." (John 15:3, katharos.) Jesus explains why: "You are already clean through the teaching I have already given you." (John 15:3.) Such teachings included "repent or perish" (Luke 13:5) 15 and the "heaven maimed" or "hell whole" principle, which clearly makes salvation 100% conditional on repentance and reform. (Mark 9:42-47.) 16 These principles would, if followed, make the eleven clean under the atonement principles we discussed above. We shall see, when we examine 1 John 1:7-9, that this is precisely what Jesus meant about clean in John 15:1-6.

Assuming for now that Jesus means they were clean because of an initial repentance, did Jesus ever also explain how they would remain clean? Yes.

Jesus then says that "every branch that bears fruit (i.e., obeys), He (God) is keeping clean." (John 15:2, katharei in present active indicative -- continuous tense.)

Does this lesson on present cleanness and subsequent cleanness when bearing fruit have anything to do with atonement? It most certainly does.

For the very same Apostle John who penned those words in John 15:1-6 also used identical words in 1 John 1:7-9 to explain a two fold atonement principle:

  1. An initial cleansing (katharei) by the blood of Jesus through repentance; and
  2. A subsequent cleansing (katharei) by the blood of Jesus by ongoing obedience. 


Apostle John's Two-Fold Atonement Principle.

In line with Jesus in John 15:1-6, Apostle John tells us the blood of Jesus' cleansing applies to a Christian only after initially confessing and repenting from sin and then subsequently only as we are walking in the light:

(7) but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth [katharei, present active indicative] us from all sin. (8) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and [should have] cleans[ed] [katharei, aorist active subjunctive] us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7-9, ASV.)

The exact same vocabulary used in John 15:1-6 is used here: the active form of katharei, to cleanse. Apostle John directly lifts out the verb cleaning from John 15:1-6. He then uses it in 1 John 1:7 in conjunction with the blood of Jesus his Son, saying it keeps us clean.

Apostle John thus says if we "confess our sins," then the blood of Jesus should have cleansed us. If we keep on obeying Jesus, then as "we walk in the light," i.e., obey God, the blood of Jesus keeps us clean from all sins.

What does walking in the light mean here? It is unquestionable that walks in 1 John 1:7-9 means obedience. This is how it was used a few verses later. In 1 John 2:3-6, John talks about "if we keep his commandments" versus "keepeth not his commandments." Apostle John stresses the importance to "keepeth his word." He then sums up his point, saying he who "abides in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked." (1 John 2:3-6, ASV.) Walking in the light in 1 John 1:9 must therefore mean obeying God's commandments.

Hence, Apostle John takes the same vocabulary and structure of John 15:1-6 on cleans, and applies it to atonement. John unquestionably then says it initiates by repentance ("confessing") and is maintained by walking in the light. John then equates this walking in the light with "keeping his commandments." 

John 15:1-6 Compared to 1 John 1:7-9

Initial Cleansing

(by Blood)

Subsequent Cleansing

(by Blood)

Jesus tells apostles right now they are all "clean." (John 15:3, katharos.) Jesus explains why: "You are already clean through the teaching I have already given you." (John 15:3.) Such teachings included "repent or perish" (Luke 13:5).

Jesus then says that "every branch that bears fruit (i.e., obeys), He (God) is keeping clean." (John 15:2, katharei in present active indicative -- continuous tense.)

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and [should have] cleans[ed][katharei, aorist active subjunctive] us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

"if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth [katharei, present active indicative] us from all sin." (1 John 1:7). Cf. 1 John 2:3-6.


Impact Of Disobedience & Lack of Contrition On Atonement

A positive requirement always has a negative implication. If you must do something to be clean, the failure to do that something means you will in that situation not be clean.

Here, Apostle John necessarily implies if you do not confess your sins, atonement does not apply in the first place. This gets back to Jesus' statement that you must first `be reconciled to the one you offended.' (Matthew 5:23-24.) Absent works worthy of repentance, atonement is out-of-the question. As Apostle Peter identically states, "Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out...." (Acts 3:19 ASV.)

The second implication from what John says is pretty clear. He says as "we walk in the light," i.e., obey God, the blood of Jesus keeps us clean from all sins. It follows directly that disobedience would mean the atonement is rolled back. We are seen as sinning. Without atonement covering you, you lose God's cleansing of you of sin.

This directly ties back to Jesus' words in John 15:1-6. Jesus says that "every branch that bears fruit (i.e., obeys), He (God) is keeping clean." (John 15:2.) The negative implication would mean that any fruitless branch, i.e., one not walking in the light, will not be kept clean in God's eyes. Just as Apostle John implies in 1 John 1:7-9, atonement ceases its effectiveness upon disobedience.

In fact, Jesus does not leave this to simply implication. Jesus in the Metaphor of the Vine specifically warns the eleven apostles who are "clean right now" of the loss of salvation of even a "branch in me." Jesus says a "branch in me" that is not producing fruit is "taken away" (John 15:2.) The branch taken away Jesus later says is "thrown outside" and burned. (John 15:6.) This is obviously a picture of final condemnation in hell. 17

Obedience Doctrine of Jesus Matches His Maintenance-Atonement Doctrine

We can corroborate further we are correctly understanding the continuous nature of the condition to atonement by examining Jesus' doctrine on obedience. We can be sure that indeed Tyndale was right about this aspect of double-justification--the necessity of a believer to walk in the light to remain clean in God's sight. This will then vindicate the other reformers who held this same view as Tyndale: Erasmus, Melancthon, Bucer, Menno Simons, and the mature Luther. 18

What was Jesus' doctrine on obedience? Jesus was adamant that professing belief in Him as Lord is meaningless unless you also obey Him. Jesus said those who call Him `Lord, Lord' but "do not do what I say" have a flawed concept of what it means to say that He is Lord. (Luke 6:46.) 19 If you call Him Lord "but do not do His will" Jesus will tell you "I never knew you." (Matt. 7:21.) Jesus said those who profess to want to obey Him, but do not actually do so are lost. But those sinners who repent and obey will enter heaven instead of those who merely profess they will obey Him but do not do so. (Parable of the Two Sons. Matthew 21:28-31.) 20

Jesus means obedience is not optional for those who call Him Lord. Salvation is gained or lost depending on actual obedience to Him, not mere profession one way or the other.

Reverend William Paley (1743-1805), a famous Christian preacher in his day, gave an excellent exposition in accord regarding Jesus' doctrine on obedience in Matthew 7:21-22.

Who was William Paley? "He was the greatest divine of the period," gifted with "remarkable vigor and clearness of intellect, and originality of character." 21 His "perspicacity of intellect and simplicity of style are almost unrivaled." Paley formulated in 1802 the famous watchmaker argument in favor of God as designer of the universe.

In Paley's Sermons in The Works of William Paley (1825) volume six at page 201 et seq., we find this excellent analysis of Matthew 7:21. Paley explains what Jesus had to mean on the role of obedience and faith in salvation:

For instance, what words can be plainer, more positive, or more decisive of this point than our Saviour's own? "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven." [Matt. 7:21.] There can be no doubt but that they who are here introduced as crying out to Jesus Christ `Lord, Lord,' are supposed to believe in him; yet neither their devotion, nor their faith which prompted it, were sufficient to save them. Id., at 214-215.

As the Free Will Baptist (January 1860) at 78 likewise comments on the same passage: "[In] Matthew 7:21-27...[n]o fault is found with the faith of those that were cast out, but for disobedience they were condemned."

After discussing Matthew 7:21, Paley next explains how Jesus re-emphasizes the same point in the very next sentence. Jesus speaks unquestionably of those who had faith, i.e., workers of prophecies and miracles in Jesus' name, but whose faith alone did not suffice:

Nay, farther our Lord, in the same passage, proceeds to tell his hearers, that many will say to him in that day, "Have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?" [Matt. 7:22.] It cannot be questioned but that they who do these things in Christ's name believe in Christ. Yet what will be their reception? "I will profess unto you I never knew you." 22 And who are they who shall be thus repulsed and rejected? No others than the workers of iniquity. "Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity." [Matt. 7:23.] Id. at 215.

Apostle John's Doctrine On Obedience

To uncover Jesus' `walk in the light' requirement in John 15:1-6, it is likewise helpful to compare Apostle John's doctrine on obedience. After all, Apostle John is the one penning these words in John 15:1-6. Who better than John to give us insight on their meaning. The first proof, of course, is John's view that as we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus keeps us clean in God's sight. (1 John 1:7-9, ASV.) The second, and conclusive proof, is we find John saying the same thing in 1 John 2:3-6. As you read this, ask yourself whether Christ's blood can conceivably apply to a disobedient Christian:

(3) And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. (4) He that saith, I [deeply] know [egnoka Gk.] him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; (5) but whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him: (6) he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked. 23 (1 John 2:3-6)(ASV)

As mentioned before, this passage involves Apostle John speaking again of walking. Thus, when he said as "we walk in the light" the "blood of Jesus" cleanses us (1 John 1:7), we see 1 John 2:3-6 identifies what walking means. It clearly means "keepeth his word" which is equated with "keepeth... his commandments." (1 John 2:3,5.)

What John also clearly says in 1 John 2:3-6 is that if you disobey Jesus, then you do not thoroughly know Him. The Greek word egnoka is formed by the prefix epi plus ginoska. The prefix epi here means above the norm, intensely. Thus, Vine's says its primary meaning is "to know thoroughly (epi, `intensive' [of] ginosko, `to know.')" 24

Thus, you do not thoroughly know Jesus if you do not obey Him. Your lack of obedience is not merely a reflection of your never having faith in Christ. Rather, it shows your faith is the same shallow belief that demons have. Your disobedience proves you do not thoroughly know Jesus. As a result, your disobedience demonstrates the "love of God has [not yet] been perfected in you." (1 John 2:3-6.)

Hence, be careful to note that if you are disobedient to Christ, John does not say it proves you never believed in Jesus. John knew those religious rulers who had "truly believed [epi-pisteousin] in Him but would not confess Him." (John 12:42; see .) John wrote prior to his Gospel that such "cowards...will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur" with "unbelievers." (Rev. 21:8.) Thus John knew disobedience is proof you do not know Jesus well enough. It is proof that the love of God has not yet been perfected in you.

In that light, 1 John 2:4 adequately explains what happens in 1 John 1:7-9 to the Christian who is not walking in the light. Such a Christian needs to repent and confess to have the blood of Christ cleanse them anew. You may have believed in Jesus but it ended there because you disobey Him. Disobedience makes your acceptance vain: "He that saith, I [deeply] know [egnoska] him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar." (1 Jn 2:4.)  

Isaiah Prophecy of Messiah Confirms Conditional Atonement

Remember we previously quoted Don Fortner, the Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Danville, Kentucky? He had written in God Sees No Sin 25that once atonement is applied, God never sees you sin again: "God sees no sin in His people...The Son of God... made an end of our sins, and justified and sanctified us by His blood."

However, in Isaiah, God warns that people will erroneously one day think when they sin that God does not see their sin. They will instead seek power over God with "incantations" -- the invocation of mere words -- in the hope these words protect them from God seeing their sin. Speaking of those deluded by such verbal "incantations," God says:

You said, "no one sees me" -- but your wisdom and your knowledge have misled you. (Isaiah 47:10 Dead Sea Scrolls Bible "DSSB.") 26

In a word, people will wrongly think atonement applies so effectively that God never sees their ongoing sinning again as long as they utter an incantation. To disabuse people of this idea, God in Isaiah makes clear that the Servant who will suffer and atone for sin does not redeem those who recite incantations but only this type of person:

And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob, who turn from transgression, says the Lord. (Isaiah 59:20, DSSB.)

God explains His principles of salvation that the Servant's sacrifice in chapter fifty-three provides:

(7) Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous person his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him, and He will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55, DSSB.)

Deducing what this means is not difficult. If you "turn from transgression" and "forsake" your sinful ways and return to the Lord, God will freely pardon. Messiah will come to redeem those who do so.

This redemption by Messiah was synonymous with atonement. In Hebrew, the word for atonement (kapper, kipper) derives from the noun kofer, which means ransom. 27 The activity of ransoming is also called redeeming.

Thus, the very prophecy of Messiah in Isaiah teaches the same principle of atonement, redemption and ransom as Jesus did. Atonement initiates for and belongs to the humble and contrite.

This principle only becomes stronger the more you read all the Messianic passages in Isaiah. After promising the suffering servant would come to take sins away (atonement), God repeats His salvation principles in Isaiah 66:2 (DSSB): "This is the one whom I will look upon: the one who is humble and contrite in spirit and who trembles at my word...." God explains it is these alone who will "inherit my Holy Mountain." (Isaiah 59:13). The words humble and contrite (about sin) are synonyms for repentance from sin. The words trembles at my words are a synonym for obedience.

Two verses later, God says of this inheritance: "For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: he will dwell in the height and the holy place, and also with the one who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the contrite, to revive the spirit of the humble...." (Isaiah 59:15 DSSB.)

This is the same message as Jesus gives in the instruction to leave the sacrifice at the altar and go be reconciled to anyone you offended. Only the repentant and contrite about sin will receive an effective atonement. 

Ezekiel's Prophetic Message on Salvation

A further confirmation of what Jesus is saying is by finding the parallel doctrine in Ezekiel. The Prophet has the identical logic to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-24.

Ezekiel teaches when you are sinning, but repent (and do works worthy of repentance), you have (eternal) life, and all your sins are forgotten. (Note the order: repentance including works-of-reconciliation followed by wiping out of past sins.) However, when you are righteous but sin again, you (spiritually) die, and all your good deeds are forgotten. Life and death, in the spiritual sense, hence turns on obedience. Failure of obedience means death. Repentance and continuing to obey (maintenance) keeps you abiding in life. Despite Prophet Ezekiel delivering this message direct from God Almighty, few Christians have read this. Let's listen:

And thou, son of man, say unto the children of thy people, "The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall he that is righteous be able to live thereby in the day that he sinneth. (13) When I say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his righteousness, and commit iniquity, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in his iniquity that he hath committed, therein shall he die. (14) Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; (15) if the wicked restore the pledge, give again that which he had taken by robbery, walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. (16) None of his sins that he hath committed shall be remembered against him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live." (Eze 33:12-16 ASV.)

What could be more plain? What could be more decisive on what Jesus teaches? Ezekiel's sequence in verses fifteen and sixteen precisely match the command of Jesus to be reconciled to the one you offended before atonement applies: 

Parallel Ezekiel 33 to Matthew 5:23-24

First Be Reconciled

Then Atonement

"if the wicked restore the pledge, give again that which he had taken by robbery, walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity...." (Ezekiel 33:15).

"None of his sins that he hath committed shall be remembered against him...." (Ezekiel 33:16).

"leave there thy [atoning] sacrifice before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother" (Matt 5:24a)

"and then come and offer thy [atoning] sacrifice." (Matt 5:24b)


Cheap Grace Commentators On Leaving Your Sacrifice At The Temple

The message of Jesus on atonement is not welcomed by faith alone doctrine. It would imply a condition other than faith is necessary to have atonement apply. Jesus would require first, just as the prophets had claimed, repentance from sin and works-worthy-of-repentance -- what Jesus describes as making reconciliation with the one you offended. You are to do what it takes to allay the righteous anger of anyone you offended.

How do cheap grace commentators deal with Matthew 5:23-24? Do they elucidate its meaning by any plain reading? No. They do everything possible to downplay that this passage has anything to do with atonement. 

Clarke: A Commentator In Turmoil

Clarke makes a commentary on this passage. He gets this right initially. Clarke says Jesus means "Do not attempt to bring any offering to God while thou...hast any difference with thy neighbor, which thou hast not used thy diligence to get adjusted."

However then Clarke tries to spin this to be about repentance prior to an "act of religious worship." He does not want you to see Jesus is talking about sacrifice -- Atonement.

Clarke next tries to take the focus off the need for you to obtain forgiveness from sin against another. He says that the real problem is you have "enmity in your heart" and this needs to be removed. Clarke's claim is false.

Rather, Jesus says the problem to overcome is that someone else has "something against you." It is not at all that you have some burning anger against the other.

However, toward the end of his commentary, Clarke correctly restates Jesus' point. "My own obstinacy...must render me utterly unfit to receive any good from God's hands...." Yet, Clarke cannot bring himself to acknowledge this obstinacy impacts salvation. Clarke cannot say Jesus refuses atonement until one resolves their obstinacy about sin. So at the last second, Clark spins this again away from such a conclusion. He repeats the idea that my worship (not atonement) is unacceptable prior to repentance. What Jesus supposedly is talking about is not atonement but whether we bring to God "worship...in an acceptable manner."

One can see that faith-alone commentary is in turmoil as it tries to explain this passage. The reason is this passage utterly destroys faith alone doctrine. Tyndale was right. 


Hence, while most today claim someone can come to Jesus in an ungodly state and be justified by faith alone, they do not understand the nature of atonement in the age of Christ. They think Abraham's faith is alone sufficient in the era of Christ. Yet, Abraham would have known that God put the atonement system in effect through Moses after Abraham. In fact, God says He deliberately delivered orders on "sacrifices or offerings" for the first time only after He first gave the Law (principally the Ten Commandments) to obey. (Jer. 7:22-23.) God says He did so to prove the priority of obedience over sacrifice. Id.

Hence, when Jesus came to "fulfil the (Mosaic) Law" and not to "abolish it" (Matt. 5:17), Jesus did not come to fulfill any pre-Mosaic principle of atonement alive during Abraham's age. Jesus' atonement was only under the Mosaic Law. His atonement is hence subject to all the clarifications made by the Prophets on the conditional effectiveness for atonement under the Mosaic Law.

Thus, in a post-Abrahamic age, even Abraham would know that no one who seeks that atoning sacrifice of Jesus to apply to them can accept the free gift of God on the altar and also imagine it has unconditional effectiveness. Abraham can read that the Mosaic principles are "eternal for all generations." (Ex. 27:21; 30:21; Lev. 6:18; 7:36; 10:9; 17:7; 23:14, 21, 41; 24:3; Num. 10:8; 15:15.)

Hence, if you want the benefit of Jesus' atonement to apply to you, you have to accept it on Jesus' terms. His atonement only has a conditional effectiveness. You may not plea His blood until you "go thy way [and] first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy [atoning sacrifice]." (Matt. 5:24.)

As Apostle John said, "confess your sins" and "keep walking in the light," and the "blood of Jesus will keep cleansing you." (1 John 1:7-9.)   


POST-SCRIPT 2020 QUESTION. The above was written 12 years ago. Recently, I reflected upon the passage again. Would the readers of the above agree with my recent explanation of Matthew 5:23-24 in this 2020 article Jesus' Gospel v Paul's Gospel

Incidentally, you do not save yourself in Jesus' Gospel. Rather, your obedience to Christ's gospel leads to a worthiness which saves you by God's favor / grace promised to those who do so. For Christ told you to appease the one you have offended - God or man, and only after doing so can you come back to the altar and offer your "atonement" / "gift" (Matt 5:23-24). You are offering a gift to God as the last step after repentance qualified you to bring the gift. 


The point I was trying to make is we never can demand God forgive us and apply atonement. We are bringing a gift - Jesus' atonement - and that implies we do so always with some fear. However, we  know our God's promises to be merciful if we have obeyed His commands to rectify the situation. (Exodus 20:6.) Regardless, our relationship can never be a vassal who can command around His creator. So the "gift" as the final step is intended to remind us we are appeasing God, and live only at God's pleasure. God grants us rights in His judgment; we do not earn them.


If you have any thoughts on this understanding, please email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it




1. Dan Fortner, God Sees No Sin at http://www.pristinegrace.org/media.php?id=297 (accessed 8-25-07).

2. Barnes and Clarke both concur the meaning here is "sacrifice."

3. The Greek word is thusiasterion. It literally means "sacrifice place." (Interlinear Scripture Analyzer.) Barnes concurs that this meant the "altar... in front of the Temple, and was the place on which sacrifices were made." Jesus uses this identical expression in Matthew 23:18, typically translated as "gift upon the altar." Barnes says in that verse Jesus means the "altar of burnt offerings" in the court of the priests. "It was made of brass, about thirty feet in length and breadth, and fifteen feet in height." He continues, saying here were "offered all the beasts and bloody oblations of the temple." See Albert Barnes, Notes Explanatory and Practical on the Gospels: Designed for Sunday School Teachers (Harper & Brothers, 1853) at 262.

4. The word atone in Hebrew is related to the word kofer, to ransom. ("Atonement," Jewish Encyclopedia). There were various kofers to make for various sins. For example, if a man was killed by an ox, there was a special kofer for that. (Ex. 21:30, kofer.) The kofer was sometimes the blood of sacrifice. (Lev. 17:11.) Other times it was a money offering, called a kesef kippurim. (Exodus 30:15-16.)(Id.) http://jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=2092&letter=A&search=atonement.

5. See online chapter `Works Worthy of Repentance."

6. Albert Barnes, Notes Explanatory and Practical on the Gospels: Designed for Sunday School Teachers (Harper & Brothers, 1863) at 69-70.

7. Campbell's doctrine of "no creed but the Bible" sought unity by relying only upon the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, thereby dispensing with formal creeds. This also required dispensing with denominational names such as "Baptist," because it did not follow the original depiction of Christ's followers. Campbell said they were known as a "disciple of Christ." This effort to restore primitive Christianity led to the founding of the Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ. In 1880, there were 592 Disciples of Christ churches with 592,000 members. For more on the background of this movement, see http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/wlhayden/etc/TCCODOC.HTM (last accessed 5/7/2007). In soteriology, they teach the necessity of "faith and repentance." They also emphasize obedience. See "Disciples of Christ," A Religious Encyclopedia (Ed. Philip Schaff)(1894).

8. "Wherewith shall I come before Jehovah, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? (7) will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (8) He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:6-8 ASV.)

9. "Take with you words, and return unto Jehovah: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and accept that which is good: so will we render as bullocks the offering of our lips." (Hos 14:2 ASV.)

10. "Oh that there were one among you that would shut the doors, that ye might not kindle fire on mine altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, saith Jehovah of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand." (Mal 1:10 ASV.)

11. "Korban," Wikipedia Encyclopedia.

12. Brad H. Young, The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2000) at 123.

13. Id., at 123-24.

14. Quoted in id., at 124.

15. For full discussion on that passage, see et seq.

16. For full discussion on that passage, see e seq.

17. For extensive discussion on the Metaphor of the Vine, see the chapter beginning at .

18. See et seq. of the Preface.

19. "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46 ASV.)

20. For full discussion, see et seq., and page 566.

21. The Chambers Cyclopedia of English Literature (Edinburgh:1844) Vol. II under "Dr. Paley" at page 651 et seq.

22. The expression "I never knew you" is an axiom in that culture. A parent who did not want to see their child killed due to wilful disobedience (under the Mosaic Law) in this life would deny ever knowing the child. The effect of such temporal relief was that the child was cut off from any inheritance from the parent. See my prior book, Jesus' Words Only (2007) at 208 fn.13.

23. Cf. "[The man who] hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept mine ordinances, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord Jehovah." (Eze 18:9 ASV.) For more on justification, see .

24. Vine's Commentary on epiginoska's usage in 2 Pe 2:20 and 22.

25. Dan Fortner, God Sees No Sin at http://www.pristinegrace.org/media.php?id=297 (accessed 8-25-07).

26. The Isaiah text was recovered in the 1950s at the Dead Sea town of Qumran. It was finally translated in 1999 by Abegg, Flint and Ulrich as the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time Into English (DSSB.)

27. See "Atonement," Encyclopedia of Judaism. It explains: "The root (`kipper'), to make atonement.... seems to be a derivative from the noun `kofer' (ransom) and to have meant originally `to aton