In the December 8 daily devotion in My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers says: "God is justified in saving bad men only as he makes them good. Our Lord does not pretend we are all right when we are all wrong. The Atonement is a propitiation whereby God through the death of Jesus makes an unholy man holy."
That made me think of something that Robert Sumner talked about in his tome against Armstrongism, entitled Armstrongism: the "Worldwide Church of God" Examined in the Searching Light of Scripture.
Sumner was quoting Herbert Armstrong's characterization of the
Protestant doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone and
was criticizing Armstrong for mocking the doctrine. According
to Armstrong (as Sumner was quoting him), many Protestants believe that
God "kids himself" by saying that believers are righteous when they
really are not. And, indeed, I have heard Protestants say
things that sound just like that: Luther saying that Christians are
snow-covered dung, and evangelicals who maintain that, when God looks at
believers, he sees the righteousness of Christ rather than their sins.
did Armstrong not believe in justification by faith? My knowledge on
this is incomplete, but I'll share what I do know. Armstrong certainly
believed that Christ died for our sins and that we receive forgiveness
through repentance and faith. We celebrated Christ's death each year at
the Lord's Supper, after all! But Protestant cult-watchers
have often criticized Armstrongism for teaching that God forgives us for
sins past, not sins of the present and the future. To be forgiven for
sins of the present and the future, Armstrong (as he is characterized by
Protestant cult-watchers) maintains, we have to confess and repent, and
then the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us of those sins. This is
different from saying that God has forgiven us at the moment of belief
of sins past, present, and future, and that God looks at believers and
regards them as righteous rather than as sinners, a notion that is known
as positional righteousness.
On the other hand, I heard things in an offshoot from Armstrongism that sounded a lot like positional righteousness.
This offshoot retained certain teachings of Armstrongism, such as
observance of the Sabbath and the annual holy days, the hope that
believers will become divine beings as part of the God family, and the
belief that Christmas and Easter are pagan and should not be
celebrated. So we're not dealing with an offshoot from Armstrongism
that is evangelical. Yet, I heard people there say things that sounded
like a belief in positional righteousness----that God regards Christians
as righteous, even though they are actually sinners. They
portrayed justification as God giving us an opportunity to learn, to
grow, and to bear fruit, without having to worry about God condemning us
each step of the way for our sins. And I heard one sermon in which the
preacher said that God looks at what we will become (righteous) rather
than what we are.
But back to Armstrong's statement
(according to Sumner) that justification teaches that God "kids himself"
that we are righteous when we are actually sinners. Oswald Chambers
said that God does not kid himself. According to Chambers, God's not
indifferent to our sins after we are saved, for the atonement is the
means by which God makes us holy. The way that some Gospel
presentations sound, God is an absolute perfectionist and cannot
tolerate the sight of sin before people are saved, but, after they
accept Christ, God turns a blind eye to their sins and God can now have a
relationship with them, for God sees Jesus' righteousness rather than
their sins. But I agree with Chambers that God still values holiness.
Perhaps the people in that Armstrongite offshoot are right that God
cuts us some slack after we are saved that he in his holiness could not
cut us prior to our salvation, and that gives us the leeway to learn and
to grow. I wouldn't make this an absolute by saying that God has
nothing to do with people who are unsaved, but I think that it may be a
productive way to look at justification.