Repenting for the sins of the Nation
REPENTING FOR THE SINS OF THE NATION
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When Paul and Silas came to Berea in Acts17:10, we are told that the Berean Jews were more noble than the Jews of Thessalonica because they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so. This is obviously a practice that the scripture commends, namely, that we should first find in the scriptures any new teaching before we believe it and receive it into our hearts. This is not unbelief but shows that we are only interested in such things as God himself has revealed through His word. We are to honour and love God by following those things which He has plainly shown us. This is also our safeguard – we shall be kept from harm and deception by humbly keeping His word.
Likewise, if we hear someone preaching and telling us to believe this or do that, but then do not find those things taught in scripture, then we are not to receive such teaching at all. It doesn’t matter if the teaching comes through a world-famous speaker, a Christian book that has sold millions of copies throughout the world, or someone we might respect. It doesn’t matter if it comes through an apostle or even an angel from heaven (Galatians 1:8), we are not to believe nor receive it if we cannot find it taught in the scriptures. The apostle Paul was astonished that the Galatians had so quickly left the Gospel that they had believed and received, and followed other teachings that were quite foreign and contrary to the Gospel of truth. Today too, we can be amazed at how quickly and easily God’s people receive things that are not taught in the Bible. One of the reasons this happens is because we do not search the scriptures to see if these things are so.
There is nothing new under the sun. As in new testament times, so today there is conflict between the truth of the Gospel and teachings that want to bring us into bondage to Old Testament ideas that have been done away with in Christ. These teachings are not part of the New Testament nor are they found there. People use some scriptures, mainly from the Old Testament, and then start to build their own ideas around them. Such teachings rob us of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus and of the liberty we have in Him (Gal. 3:1, 5:1). They want to return us to OT (Old Testament) ways of thinking which have been done away with in Christ and by what He achieved at Calvary. At their heart, and in the end, all these teachings represent an attack on the truth of the Gospel – Christ and Him crucified. They distort the truth of Gospel and blind us to the true power and all-sufficiency of the preaching of the cross. Those who promote these ideas are not aware that they are opposing the Truth, but the teaching is still wrong and dangerous. Paul contended hard to deliver God’s people from such falsehoods and pointed out that such teachers trouble the church and shall bear judgement for doing so (Gal. 1:8,9 ; 5:10-12).
Now let us consider this idea that is promoted today, that we should confess or repent for the sins of the country we live in. According to this teaching, God is grieved because of the evil in our country and this evil is preventing God from blessing the country and its people as He would like to. It is therefore also under His curse or judgement. We should therefore confess or repent because of the evil in our country and because of the sins that people are committing, so that God may forgive this wickedness and send His blessing – we are to obtain reconciliation for our country and its people. They further teach that it is also necessary to repent for the sins committed by previous generations in our country – national sins – before God can truly send blessing or revival. In this article I’m addressing these teachings, but as they go around the world, some points become more developed or stressed than others, and what people teach or believe may vary somewhat. So, in this article I’m not responding to the writings of just one person but to the variety of ideas that have developed and become popular around the world. Personally, I believe that one can quickly and easily show that these ideas are contrary to the scriptures, but because some people have become so deeply influenced by these various teachings, I have covered most, if not all of the passages that they use in their attempt to support their ideas, lest anyone think these teachings have any biblical validity.
Now, the people who teach these things are not just putting them forward as their own idea or interpretation, but they say that it is taught in the scriptures that we ought to do these things. This is a very serious matter. What authority do they have for laying such an obligation upon Christians?
We shall see that they have no authority whatsoever to teach this. It is a complete invention. It is a deception that takes us away from the truth and power of the cross. It does not glorify Christ and His work on Calvary but it results in glorifying certain parts of the law and thus bring God’s people into delusion and bondage. It is not even really taught in the OT, although this is mainly where they go to justify this teaching. They seek to conform us to the image of some OT figure, like Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah or Daniel (although there are undoubtedly commendable things concerning them), instead of presenting us with the image and revelation of Jesus Christ, who surpasses them all, both according to His divine nature as well as His ministry. These teachings want to take us back into the OT ways of thinking concerning curses and judgements upon nations, instead of recognising, acknowledging and proclaiming the offer of forgiveness in Christ Jesus to all people in these days of grace. But, more than this, they actually end up by plunging people into superstitious thinking and praying, by misunderstanding even the OT. This is not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t pray about certain social conditions which might be adversely affecting our communities or the spread of the Gospel. We will touch on this matter later on, but these modern ideas say much more than this.
The question is simply this – if these things are required of God’s people, namely, to confess or repent for the sins that occur in their country, town or area, in order that God’s judgement or curse upon the land might be turned away and blessing come, then why is this not taught in the NT (New Testament)? Why is there not a single verse that teaches or instructs us to do this? It is not even mentioned or indicated. Remember, they want to tell us that true blessing or revival in our country is hindered if we don’t confess and repent for the sins of present and past generations! How can something so important for the success and spread of the Gospel be totalling missing from NT teaching? There is simply nothing in the NT that would even lead us to think such things. We shall also see how these teachers also misinterpret the OT in their attempt to justify this teaching.
The Apostles did not use this approach.
Consider the Acts of the Apostles. Where is this a part of the apostles’ strategy, thinking or teaching as they travel around countries preaching the Gospel? Where do they instruct Christians or any other people to repent for the sins of their country, region or town, so that God’s blessing may come? Where do we read that they themselves do anything like this? But this is what we are presented with in this teaching – that Christians ought to confess and repent for the sins of the world, that is, for the sins of the unbelievers in their region, including past generations. Nowhere in the Acts of the Apostles does this idea occur. The apostles and others travel as God directs them; they preach the Good News to people – that they are freely forgiven for all their sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; people are converted and churches formed and the Christians receive instruction. But there is no confessing or repenting for the sins of any country or region by Christians (or by anyone else!) before taking the Gospel there with power – God obviously blessed the work and added many people to His church without this teaching – nor was there any such instruction given by the apostles to Christians to do so after churches were formed in order for God’s work among them to prosper and spread. It spread and grew wonderfully, and there was true revival, without God’s people identifying with, and repenting for, the sins of unbelievers around them. It also spread wonderfully by God’s grace without sinners being told they had to repent for the sins of their city or country – past or present – before God could truly bless them and move among them in power! Everyone, everywhere was told to repent of their own sins! This, in fact, is both the teaching and example we find throughout the Bible, as we shall see.
Likewise, there have been revivals all over the world and the Gospel has spread and taken root from the time of the apostles until this day without God’s people doing, knowing or teaching these things. So who can tell us why this teaching has suddenly become necessary for the church and for the success and spread of the Gospel in these days?
The Apostles did not teach this approach.
This teaching is not found anywhere in the writings of the apostles in the NT. Such a thing is not mentioned at all. Can we say then that there was less sin, witchcraft and idolatry in NT times than there is today and that therefore the Christians of those times didn’t need this teaching as we do today. This is obviously not true. I don’t know of anyone who would say this. Both the NT scriptures and other historical records confirm clearly and emphatically that there was gross immorality and sin, witchcraft, idolatry and oppression in NT times. For example, Acts 8: 9-11; 13: 6-8; 17:16; 19:18,19, 23-28. We also know from historical records that the city of Corinth was a place of great immorality and this might help to explain why the church at Corinth needed particular teaching and rebuking by the apostle Paul. There had been many wars in this region of the world and many injustices had been committed. This point is so clear that it should not need any further clarification.
So, why don’t the apostles tell Christians to repent for the sins that their country or region had committed in that or in previous generations? Had countries not committed any evil or oppression? Of course they had, but nowhere do the apostles instruct the Lord’s people to pray or repent because of the idolatry at Athens, or because of the witchcraft and idolatry at Ephesus, or because of the immorality of the city of Corinth, or because of the oppression of Rome against other countries and especially against Judea. Nowhere do we find them exhorting or obliging Christians to confess and repent for national sins of previous generations either. They don’t tell the Jews that they must confess and repent for the sins of their Jewish ancestors according to the flesh; nor do they tell the Roman, Greek or Arabic believers or Christians of any other country or region to repent for the past sins of their country. Surely the Christians in Rome had plenty of reason to confess the sins of the Roman Empire if this teaching were true! But they are not instructed to do this. There is not one verse, not one exhortation to Christians to do this anywhere in the NT. There was so much sin, idolatry, witchcraft and oppression in their day, and in previous generations, that the apostles had every reason and ample opportunity to exhort Christians to confess or repent for the sins of those around them – but they never did so. So again we are left with the question: if repenting for the sins of the unbelievers in our region or country was necessary for our country’s ‘reconciliation’ and for the spread of God’s Kingdom, why don’t the apostles instruct us to do so? Have they neglected to teach us something that the church needs to know in order for the Gospel to prosper and spread? Were they ignorant of such vital teaching, if vital teaching it be? If the church is built on the foundation of Christ and the apostles and prophets, do these modern teachers know more than them? Of course they would not say so and would not want it to be so, but I put the question to highlight the gross error of this teaching and the danger that such teachers place themselves in. They are not building on Christ. They are building on their own interpretation of the OT. They are replacing faith in Christ with a religion of superstition.
Jesus did not teach this approach.
Jesus the Son of God did not instruct His followers to do so anywhere in the Gospels nor in the Revelation. Jesus came preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God to people and telling them to repent – not asking them to repent on behalf of others! Nor did He tell them to confess or repent for the sins of past generations, as if this were necessary for them to receive full forgiveness and blessing from God. No. Let us understand that because of Calvary, anyone who repents of their own sin, turns to the Lord and becomes a child of God, the past sins of their ancestors or nation cannot limit or withhold the full blessing of God in Christ Jesus for that person. Calvary is a complete cut off point from sin, from judgement, from guilt and from the old Adam, which includes our own past and all our ancestry back to him. Praise God! God’s people are not in any kind of bondage because of ancestral sins if they are in Christ! Nothing like this is taught by Jesus or the apostles. See 2Cor. 5:17. These ideas are neither according to the words nor the Spirit of Christ.
The word of God comes to people themselves, directly, convincing them of their sin and leading them to repentance. Mark 1:14,15; 2:17 (He calls sinners to repentance, not saints to repent for the sins of the sinners!). The word of God now comes personally and directly to each person convicting them of their own sin – Luke 13 :1-5 ; Acts 2 :38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 26:20. How do men and women become convicted of their sin, repent and turn to God by faith and receive forgiveness of sins? How does this blessing and grace of God reach them? It comes by the hearing of God’s word to their own hearts! Rom. 10:10-17. Yes, Jesus tells his disciples to pray –not for the sins of the sinners in the cities, but rather that the Lord of the harvest would send out labourers (to preach the Kingdom of God so that sinners themselves might hear the word of God and so believe and repent). He also teaches them to pray for God’s kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and that we might be forgiven even as we forgive. But nowhere in the NT – nor anywhere in the Bible – are we told to confess or repent on behalf of the sins of unbelievers in order to make some sort of atonement or reconciliation for them that will allow God to bless them! Jesus can pronounce judgement over Capernaum and can weep over Jerusalem because they hardened their hearts to the word of God and didn’t repent, but He doesn’t ask his followers to confess and repent for the sins of those people. (Of course these examples also relate to Israel missing or rejecting its opportunity to receive its Messiah).
Also notice that in Rev. 2: 8-11, the Lord did not ask the church in the city of Smyrna to pray and repent for the evil being done by some of the people of Smyrna who are of the synagogue of Satan, in order that God’s forgiveness and blessing may come to that region! I say again, nowhere in the Bible are the Lord’s people asked to do this.
But some other people go even further in what they teach, telling the Lord’s people that they should repent for the sins of their city or country, such as witchcraft, immorality and drunkenness, and confess that they, the Lord’s people, are included in these sins and have sinned against God! The saints are told to identify with the sins of unbelievers as if those sins were their sins! They are told they should then apply the blood of Jesus to that situation in order to bring about reconciliation and ask for God’s forgiveness! But the blood of Jesus is applied to the believing heart. You cannot apply it through your prayer to an unrepentant sinner! This is complete superstition which seeks to take the place of Christ who is the one mediator between God and man. Jesus has already completely and conclusively identified with the sins of the whole world at Calvary, in a way that has obtained free forgiveness to all who believe the Gospel. Do not seek to add to the work of God in Christ.
They obviously believe they are following OT examples (and we will look at those later in detail) but we have already clearly seen that there is no such idea in the NT (nor in the OT as we shall also see). Truly we can now cry out with Paul and say,
“ O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has clearly been set forth, crucified among you?”
Indeed, these teachings are like an enchantment. In the end, people believe things that are not only against scripture but also against sound thinking. They have a bewitching influence upon many of the Lord’s people who follow these teachings without searching the scriptures, blinding them to the truth and power of the Gospel. The teachings “seem” plausible to people because the teachers use certain, carefully chosen scriptures (but as in Galatia, so today, mainly from the OT) which reflect perhaps an aspect of truth that had relevance at that time, but then they add their own ideas to them. And this is the danger and subtlety of such errors, namely, that they use some scriptures – but very much ignore others – and so appear true, but they misinterpret those verses, putting their own meaning on them and end up with something that is far from the truth and even against the truth. By ignoring the whole testimony of scripture they build their own system of teaching. Indeed, they don’t really start with the Bible at all. They claim they have a special revelation or ministry – even apostolic – from the Lord. They start with certain ideas of their own which they think are effective and also biblical, and then try to find verses, any verse, that might seem to support their own teaching. And when they find no real support in the Bible, they start reading their own meanings into the verses they have chosen. Many are deceived because they do not search the scriptures, and forget the clarity and simplicity of the Gospel that was delivered to them in the beginning.
The Old Testament – General
Now let us consider the OT scriptures, which of course are God’s inspired word to us. In it we find the account of God’s dealings with mankind and in particular with His chosen people Israel and the covenant He established with them. Above all, it also prefigures and illustrates the redemption and salvation that God would extend to all mankind in Christ. Indeed, the OT scriptures are much to do with portraying Christ in type, and the salvation He would bring. Aspects of Joseph’s life portray Christ, for example. Moses leading Israel through the Red sea is a picture of our baptism into Christ. But to establish the New Covenant and bring men and women into the spiritual Kingdom of God in reality, God had to send Christ Himself, and to send Him to die on the cross. Before Christ took away the sin of the world on Calvary (John 1:29), God could not bring or birth anyone into the inward spiritual life and power of His own Life and Kingdom. The OT gives us outward pictures of what God wanted to do spiritually in us! Truly Christ’s death at Calvary was the most significant event in history if not in eternity! His death changed things in a most fundamental way. He cried, “ It is finished “, and the veil in the temple was rent in two, showing that men, through faith in Christ, could now enter the holiest of all by the blood of Jesus, in the Spirit. The law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. God had not changed. Not at all. His mercy and grace are wonderfully portrayed in His dealings with His people in the OT, as well as His righteousness and judgement. But now because of Christ’s death on Calvary, the relationship between God and man had undergone a fundamental change. Jesus was the Lamb of God that had taken away the sin of the world. He had condemned sin in the flesh, thus breaking its power in peoples’ lives. He bore away man’s condemnation for those sins, and so offers forgiveness freely and grants us Life, Eternal Life, by His Spirit and righteousness, (Rom.8:1-4). By the cross God has done what the law could not do and has given those who believe in Christ the right to become the sons of God, and to enter into His presence.
So among other things, two fundamental things have changed; what God has done for us and what God has done in us. In the former, man now partakes of the righteousness of God by faith, because of the riches of His grace, and not by the works of the law, and this gives us the right to become His sons. Then because God has removed both sin and the enmity of the law (Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14), there could now be true spiritual union between God and man. He makes us His sons by giving us the Spirit of His Son, Jesus Christ, to dwell within us. Consequently, our lives are to reflect His nature in a way that just was not possible in the OT (2 Peter 1:3,4). So, if we return to keeping parts of the law as they did in Galatia, then we are denying our faith in Christ and the salvation He has purchased for us. Or if we return to old ways of behaviour, then we deny the revelation of His nature to our hearts.
For example, in the OT male children had to be circumcised as part of the covenant between God and His people. This is a type or picture of the inward spiritual work that Christ would accomplish in those that believe in Him (Col 2:1). But He is the fulfilment of the truth which that outward circumcision in the OT only illustrates (Heb. 10:1). So if anyone now believes that in addition to believing in Christ, you must also be outwardly circumcised in order to be saved, that person is abandoning their faith in Christ and the salvation He offers (Gal. 5:3-6). What a foolish thing it is to abandon the substance to have only its shadow! (Heb. 10:1) Can you eat the shadow of a bunch of bananas? Can the shadow satisfy your hunger and keep you alive? The bananas are on the tree. Their shadow is on the ground. Try eating the shadow, and at best you will finish with only dry dust in your mouth. And this is what such teachings do – they abandon the spiritual for the carnal; the heavenly for the earthly. Though someone believes that Jesus is the Son of God and that he has forgiveness through His blood; though he believes many other things that are true, yet, if he seeks to add anything to what Christ has done, if he seeks to take us back to things that Christ actually came to replace or fulfil, then that person is in effect denying Christ’s salvation. Christ, and faith in Christ are of no use to him any more and that person’s faith is in vain (Gal. 4:11,19,20; 5:3,4). Even though he thinks he is following Christ, he has been deceived (Gal. 3:1). Such a person is totally confusing the Old and New Testaments. They are confusing the outward with the inward; the shadow with the substance; the flesh with the spirit; the earthly with the heavenly. It is the same if Christians think they should keep the festivals of the Old Covenant – they are denying the faith! In view of all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus, no wonder the apostle Paul was grieved to the core and strove by prayer and instruction to deliver the Galatians from their folly and deception!
Do you put blood on your doorposts to avoid the judgement of God? Do you bring an ox or a goat or a ram with you to church, to offer for your sins? Well, perhaps you smile in response to these questions, but similar errors are being taught and are occurring today. People are confessing and repenting for the sins of previous generations; they are trying to apply the blood of Jesus to these sins! People are wanting to take us back to OT ways of thinking and acting – and many of the Lord’s people accept these teachings and follow them. The teachings we are considering in this article belong to these kinds of errors.
The above is basically to do with what God has done for us in Christ – the way of salvation. Now what about the ministry and conduct of Christians – what God does in and through us. Do things continue in the NT as in the Old? In some things they do. But we must acknowledge a radical and fundamental change – because of Christ and what He has done. Consider Mtt.5 etc. Now, would you have someone’s tooth knocked out because they had knocked out your tooth? Would you slay a town of unbelievers with the sword? Would your church stone a member if they had committed adultery? Or would you call on God to send fire from heaven on those who opposed God? All these things were permitted or required in the Old Covenant. But we cannot, we dare not do any of these things, because we have been born again by the Spirit of God and none of these things are consistent with His nature in us or the covenant that He has brought us into.
We may think this is all very clear and simple but consider James and John who clearly liked the sense of power that being with Jesus gave them. However, when they ask Him whether they should call down fire on the Samaritans because they had refused to receive Him, He rebukes them sharply and says that they don’t know what spirit they are of! They misunderstood both the nature and ministry of the Son of God! And unless we walk in the Spirit of Christ and according to His word, we shall make the same mistake. And so it is today. Men misunderstand both the nature of Christ and His salvation as well as the ministry of the church. According to their own preferences or personal disposition, some teachers are choosing such scriptures from the OT as suit them and what they want to believe. They create some image of God that stems from their own imagination, which they fuel with certain OT texts. This is idolatry and it corrupts the true image of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ! So it is with people who come to towns and instead of preaching the Gospel and the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ, they tell people that the curse and judgement of God is on them and their city and that they need to repent on behalf of the sins of (others in) their town or nation, so that God may remove His judgement and send blessing. (Some men are almost breathing out fire and judgement like James and John wanted to do). But how long is such repenting to continue? How do we know when our repenting has atoned for the nation’s sins? How do we know that we have covered all the sins that need to be confessed? Who is to say when this curse and judgement is removed by such repenting?! These preachers never seem to tell people. They just get Christians to repent and repent and repent, for all sorts of things that they, the preachers, and their investigators and intercessors keep finding wrong in the nation! In some countries they are particularly interested in any evidence of the occult or witchcraft and publish their ‘findings’ in articles and prayer letters in great detail. They concentrate on these things and fill the minds of the Lord’s people with this unedifying material, which only goes to magnify the work of the devil rather than promote the Gospel or bring blessing. It is a tragedy that brings people into ignorance of Christ and His salvation, of His nature and ministry. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we can’t pray about things that happen in the town or country we live in. I’m talking about these unscriptural and superstitious ideas that some people are mixing with the true Gospel and thus bringing people into bondage and darkness by their teachings. In these days we may indeed be grieved by what is happening around us and in the church, and may want to humble ourselves before God and pray that according to the riches of His mercy and goodness He may turn hearts to Him and lead people to repentance. But this is quite different from this superstitious praying.
The Old Testament – Daniel and praying for the sins of the nation.
But now, as we actually look at the OT scriptures we find that these teachings are not even found there! Where in the OT does God or one of the prophets exhort His people to confess or repent for the sins of any unbelievers or any other nation? Or where do we have an example of this in the Old Testament? There isn’t any. No, not one.
Daniel, who is quoted a lot, was living in Babylon, but we don’t find him praying, confessing and repenting because of the iniquities of that city. Nowhere in the OT do God’s people repent for the sins of unbelievers in order that God’s curse be removed and blessing and forgiveness be given. Has God excluded other peoples/nations from His blessing? No. In the OT we find the same as in the NT. God sends His word to people and exhorts them to repent of their own sins. Jonah is an example of this. He preached God’s word to the people of Ninevah – he didn’t confess or intercede on their behalf because of their sins! They themselves had to repent of their sins and then God shows Himself abundantly merciful and gracious and his blessing follows immediately! But if they are proud and do evil, then He declares that judgement awaits them. Or it is through the faith, testimony, love and obedience of God’s people in the OT that the name of the Lord is glorified among the nations and so others join themselves to the people of God or come to believe in Him (Deut. 4:6). But the idea that God’s people need to confess or repent for the sins of unbelieving nations as a prelude to God being able to bless those people or nations, this is a complete falsehood and a human invention, not found in either the New or Old Testaments. Please remember, we are not saying it is wrong to pray for others. What we are looking at is this idea that God’s people need to confess or repent for the sins of unbelievers, in order to affect some kind of reconciliation. This is not taught in the Bible.
Not only so, but this idea would rob Jesus Christ of the free salvation He has purchased at Calvary for all mankind, where He identified with their sins to such an extent, that their sins were laid on Him and He bore them away altogether and forever! John 1:29; Rom.5: 8-10; 2 Cor.5:19-21; 1 John 2:2. This is why, in these days of grace, the good news is to be preached to all, freely. We are told in these passages that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, and that while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. These are wonderful words of our free salvation, where God took the initiative, the first step, and dealt with all our sin (while we were sinners) before we even cared or realized it. So why are we now being told to repent for these sins of unbelievers, for which Christ has already died? Christ bore it all away so that from God’s point of view, it is no longer an obstacle to Him giving us salvation and eternal life. Therefore it says, God, in Christ, was not imputing our sins unto us! This is all because of Calvary, and now it is for men to believe this Gospel and repent so that they may know and receive this wonderful grace of God. God has already done everything on His part – wonderfully and graciously; our part now is to believe this Gospel and repent of our own sins and find that free forgiveness in and through Christ. Our part is not to resurrect the sins of others, for which Christ has died and already gained reconciliation, just so that we can repent for them and obtain reconciliation again!! By doing this, we would substitute Christ and His death with our prayers of repentance for the nations!
Or do they want us to believe that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world and for every soul in it, but that His death on Calvary is not sufficient with regard to what they call “national, corporate sins”. In other words, are they saying that we need this special, additional “identificational prayer” of the church (where the saints “identify” with the sins of their city or country) in order to bring about what they call reconciliation for the nations, which Jesus couldn’t accomplish at the cross?! If this is so, and indeed some of them say this, then we see that their own inventions force them further into deeper error and deception. There is no such teaching in the NT. Just like the errors in the Galatian churches, they are not saying, “ only Jesus and Him Crucified” for our salvation. They said, “ Jesus and circumcision” for salvation. So this teaching says, “ Jesus and identificational confession and repentance”, in order to bring salvation to people. So they have invented a salvation with two stages. Yes, Calvary is absolutely essential, they say – but you also need “identificational repentance” to effect national reconciliation with God, before people can receive the full benefits of Calvary!
If they say that this kind of confession and repentance for national sins doesn’t actually cause God to forgive the nation its sins, but that it opens the way for this gospel of Grace to bless a people, this is still a deception since this kind of confession and repentance is not taught in scripture, as we have already seen above. It is distorting the truth, power and simplicity of the Gospel in the minds of both saints and sinners – it is causing confusion in countries as well as promoting a superstitious attitude.
But some of their writers say that confession of national sins, including asking forgiveness, means that Satan can no longer accuse those people and therefore he can’t keep them out of God’s grace nor prevent them hearing the Gospel! They say that unless we confess the sins of our nation, the devil has a legal right to keep people in darkness and bondage. Surely, if you can believe this you can believe anything! What? The devil has the right to keep a country out of God’s grace and prevent them from hearing and responding to the Gospel until the church confesses the national sins and seeks reconciliation for those sins? What a horrendous error. What an attack upon Calvary! It is Christ’s death and resurrection and His shed blood at Calvary that has dealt with the sins of mankind and has deprived the devil of his right and power. It is not our “confessional repentance” for others that does this. Because of Calvary God is not imputing unto people their trespasses but brings them the word of reconciliation! 2 Cor.5:19. He has opened the door wide! Jesus has made a way at Calvary and the devil has no right to keep a soul out of God’s grace except that soul himself rebels against God’s word. Where in the NT is it shown or taught that the church needs to confess the sins of a region and obtain reconciliation for those sins before God could bless them with the word of His salvation. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray concerning the spread of the Gospel or for people to be saved by God’s grace, as I say elsewhere; and I’m not saying that we can’t or shouldn’t be grieved by, or pray about the excessive or gross sin in our communities; but I am saying this kind of praying whereby we seek to obtain forgiveness for the sins of our nation – past and present – has no NT example or exhortation.
Now, following this matter in more detail, they tell us that because Daniel confessed the sins of his nation (Daniel 9), so we also should confess and repent for the sins of our nation, that is, the nation we live in and outwardly belong to. Nothing shows more clearly how people who teach this, confuse the natural and the spiritual, the world and the church; how they read into scripture their own ideas and disregard what the Bible actually teaches. Yes, Daniel was an Israelite praying for the nation of Israel. But in the OT Israel are God’s people and they represent, in that sense, the church, and Daniel belonged to God’s people and he was praying for them – God’s people! This is an example of a man of God – a believer – praying and interceding for God’s people, and Daniel’s interceding is to do with the covenant between God and His people and how God’s people have broken this covenant and lost their inheritance. It has nothing to do with a believer confessing the sins of unbelievers! Daniel does not pray for the sins of Babylon or its people!
Similarly, they quote verses like Ezekiel 22:30, and tell us that this now applies to the ministry of the church in praying for the sins of the country we live in! But again this verse refers to God seeking someone from among His people who is grieved about the condition of God’s people and who cares enough about God’s honour and glory to intercede before God because of the terrible state of His people, with whom He had established His covenant. But in order to justify their teaching, they misapply all these verses, switching their application from the church (who are God’s redeemed people in covenant with Him), to the world, as though this is, or could be, the same! Though we can and should pray for the society we live in (e.g. 1 Tim. 2:1,2) – and we will look at this later on – this teaching, and what it asks us to do, has no biblical foundation. They find no example of this teaching in the NT and so they quote massively from the OT – but only end up misapplying verses and totally confusing the covenants, and in particular not understanding what the New Covenant is all about!
So one of their writers says that cities and countries represent corporate bodies, and their spiritual progress or destiny is blocked by their sins. According to this writer, these countries are given a church to represent them before God and to lead the nation in repentance and reconciliation! When referring to countries and cities he uses such expressions as, the “Virgin daughter of France” or “Miss New York” (i.e. referring to France and the city of New York). In other words he uses the words that God applied to His own Chosen people (“the virgin daughter of my people”, “ the virgin Israel”), with whom He had established His unique covenant, and with whom He pleaded and for whom His servants interceded, and the writer applies these to countries and cities of the world today! As if a nation or city today could be viewed as God’s people who had sinned against Him, as in the OT, and as if the church today should pray for that city or country as if it were God’s nation! Does the nation of Britain or Tanzania represent God’s people?! And is the church of the Lord to act as some OT prophet in securing reconciliation for a secular nation by confessing and repenting for its sins?! This is all a terrible mixture and delusion and it is robbing the church of its true ministry. As we have already said, care and prayer for the society we live in, is both appropriate and scriptural. But we ought to follow what the scripture teaches rather than these delusions. (There is one verse in the OT that applies the term “virgin daughter” to a secular city and that happens to be Babylon – Isaiah 47:1; but this is only in terms of judgement, not intercession! And indeed, in the whole of scripture Babylon is taken as a symbol of either world rule or the devil, upon whom God’s judgement comes – read Isaiah chapters 13 and 14, particularly vv.4-24. And this can explain the language in 47:1. Nowhere in the Bible is confession or repentance for sins made on behalf of unbelievers, according to the example of Daniel or any of the other prophets praying for God’s people! They utterly confuse world and church!)
What? Because I am English and a Christian, am I supposed to confess the sins of the English as Daniel confessed those of Israel?! Am I to repent for what the English did to those in India or Africa, or to the Australians, the French, the Germans, the Spanish, the Irish and many others in previous centuries, going back 1000 years? Where does this stop? This is almost an endless task! And indeed, some teach that we have to do a careful historical search and investigation into all the major sins and injustices that the country we live in has committed, because if we don’t do this and lead the nation in confession and repentance for these sins, God’s judgement continues to rest on our land and prevents God’s blessing or revival truly coming! What a deception! And if we ask how far back into history we should go, these teachers tell us we need to go back to when our country or nation was first formed and to discover all the major evils it has committed since that time to this!! We might as well go all the way back to Adam and repent of every sin that mankind has ever committed up to now. This would complete their terrible error and deception of thinking that we still somehow, through our “identificational” praying, can atone for the offences of mankind, which Jesus has already borne away on the cross! (Realizing the unbiblical ground they are on, some of these teachers try to distinguish between personal sins and corporate sins. They say that Calvary itself deals with an individual’s sins, but for corporate sins this further identificational repentance is necessary. Thus their own erroneous thoughts lead them into further inventions, as we have already noted.) Where in the NT does God require a whole nation, as a nation, to repent? This is the other error and deception, namely, they teach that in these days of Gospel grace, God wants us to focus on the conversion of nations as nations; they think He is dealing with nations today just as He did with Israel in the OT! They teach that the church has the right to apply the blood of Jesus Christ to national sins and they would have us pray that England as a country be reconciled to God through His blood. We have already seen that nothing like this is taught in the NT. This is nothing but a superstitious use of the blood of Jesus Christ.
This just makes a nonsense of the New Covenant and of the Gospel which is the power of God to save any and every individual soul who turns to the Lord from the power of darkness, and to baptize that soul into God’s spiritual kingdom of life, joy, peace and righteousness. That’s what the New Covenant is all about – bringing souls into the Life of God. But a country or city cannot be baptized into the Kingdom and Life of God. Yes, this Gospel shall be preached to all nations, but the NT teaching and revelation is that people will be saved out of every tribe and nation; it does not teach nor show that nations are to be saved as a whole unit in these days of the Gospel, before the end comes, as though God has a covenant with England or any other country as He did with Israel in the OT. Paul did not go to Macedonia and tell the nation of Macedonia to repent of its sins and past wars. He did not call on government officials to repent for the sins of their city or nation in order to effect reconciliation for that city or country. He went to certain places in Macedonia and told people who lived there that they should repent of their sin and turn to Jesus Christ who would make them a citizen of another country, i.e. heaven! They would be added to God’s church which is one body. Paul didn’t try and make the Macedonian Christians effect some kind of reconciliation for their land!
Without understanding what they are doing or what they are really saying, they are replacing this wonderful salvation that brings men and women into the life and power of God’s heavenly kingdom, with the idea of establishing some kind of outward Christian nation or kingdom. Some of their writers say that when Christians confess the sins of the country in which they live, this is only the first step. In fact, what they say is, that first you must have an intercessor like Daniel who recognizes these sins and then prays for the nation; this must then be followed by the church generally who also then prays concerning those national sins (and this they say is represented by Ezra leading the people in corporate confession!), and the third and final stage is when the public or secular officials of that city or nation confess these same national sins, and this then represents true national repentance and it is then that God can truly forgive and bless that nation (and this they say is represented by Nehemiah in the OT, who represents the “secular” or governmental leadership!?). They teach this although there is nothing like it in the NT, and they totally misuse the OT in their attempt to support their inventions. There seems to be no end to this error.
What a tragedy it is then to see many Christian leaders deceiving themselves, and then deceiving many thousands of others by thinking and teaching that they are affecting some kind of reconciliation and opening God’s blessing to their nation by confessing and repenting for past and present “national” sins. British believers go to Australia and confess the past sins of Britain against Australia to Australian believers. Then Australian Christians come over to Britain and confess the sins of Australia against Britain! Brazilians come to Britain, Americans go to Japan and the Japanese ask forgiveness from American Christians, and so it goes on and on. Christians going around the world confessing to other Christians the past sins of ‘their’ countries, which of course the church of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with! They think they are ‘healing the nations’ and affecting ‘reconciliation’ between countries and communities in a way that allows the Gospel to spread more effectively. It is total deception. As we have already seen, nowhere in the NT do any Christians of any country, region or tribe go around confessing and repenting for national sins of any kind. There is no example of this and there is no instruction to do this by Jesus or the apostles. Christians from Rome do not go and confess the sins of Rome to the Macedonians, to the Athenians, to the Jews or to anyone else; believers from Macedonia, Athens, Asia Minor or any other region do not go around confessing the past sins of their people and asking forgiveness from one another or from other countries – even though they had a long history of fighting one another! A delegation of Roman Christians did not go to Judea to ask forgiveness of the Jewish Christians there! Certainly there was as much injustice and wrong done in that era as in these centuries, but in the light of what Jesus Christ had done on Calvary, it truly would have been madness for them to have done this, and it is no wonder that we read nothing like this in the NT. And if you wanted to do this, how could you possibly be sure that you have confessed all the sins that your country has committed against another country? Not even an expert historian could know all the things that might have displeased God!
As the Lord’s people, we are all citizens of heaven and we know that the wars and injustices of the countries we live in had nothing to do with the true church of Jesus Christ. But Christians are going around asking forgiveness of other Christians for the sins of the world, i.e. the sins of ‘their’ countries. Are these Christians offended then by what other countries have done to ‘their’ country? Why should they be offended? We should have forgiven as we have been forgiven. I do not need the Christian of any country to ask my forgiveness for the wrongs done by the country he happens to live in. Nor do I or the church I am in represent ‘Britain’, as though it had a specific covenant relationship with God. I know they think they are helping to bring about some kind of reconciliation but it only ends up in terrible spiritual and scriptural confusion, making no distinction between the world and the church. It is a carnal interpretation that ignores and belittles the truth that I am born from above, born of God, and that my citizenship is now in heaven (Philippians 3:20). I have been redeemed from sin and am no longer “of this world”. In the deepest and truest sense I am not English, you are not Tanzanian nor Mhehe nor Masaai; we are God’s. I cannot, dare not, identify with the world as though I belonged to it or to its sins. This is not identification with the needs of others. This is neither humility nor repentance. This is confusion. This is deception. (Even though religious institutions can carry the name of Christian, yet if they carry out evils and atrocities they show that they have nothing to do with the church of Christ. And in the context of preaching the Gospel to certain people in certain parts of the world, this fact may need to be pointed out. But this does not justify the totally unbiblical and superstitious behaviour of these modern errors.) As we have seen, there is not one example of this in the whole Bible! It does not mean we are uncaring or unconcerned. Not at all. It does not mean that we can’t pray for those in our community or land, and we shall later see in what ways the church can pray that unbelievers may be reached with the Gospel. But the world – and certainly the church – is not helped by these human ideas which only serve to obscure and destroy the truth and power of the Gospel.
But these believers who hold these meetings of confession and repentance say that they are moved to tears and believe that it is God who is moving in their midst and touching their hearts. Being deceived by their own beliefs, it is no wonder that when they come together, they are further deceived by all kinds of manifestations and feelings. Of course this is a very serious matter and I do not say these things lightly. But this kind of deception and error is found in the NT also, where believers by following their own desires and ideas actually open themselves up to receiving a different gospel, a different Jesus and a different spirit – and they think it is of the Lord! But Paul points out the seriousness of the matter by saying that they are actually being deceived by an angel of light, whom Paul identifies as the devil. (2 Cor.11:1-15) And so it is with these believers. They are believers, but by leaving the truth and simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus that they originally received, they open themselves up to deception. No doubt they shall have all kinds of experiences which shall only further deceive them. But these feelings and manifestations stem either from themselves, or from another gospel and another spirit.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I beseech you, for the sake of your own soul which Jesus Christ died on Calvary to redeem and set free to make His own, keep yourselves clear of these teachings and deceptions. The Bible and what it says is more important than any large Christian organization or speakers, however famous they may be. And if you are a church leader, bear the reproach of Christ rather than following what is popular – but not taught in scripture – and what you think will make you popular and well-known.
Their scriptural ‘evidence’.
What scriptures in particular then, do these teachers give us to show that the church should confess and repent for the sins (past or present) of the countries we live in? We have seen that they quote from Daniel. Others quote verses which show God’s gracious plan to bless the Gentiles with salvation, such as Gen12:3, Ps.22:27, Isa.56:7, Jonah 4:11 and Rom.15:9 – and of course we could add many others. But that’s exactly what these and other verses show us, namely, that God from the beginning has planned to bless all the peoples of the earth; but none of these verses indicate in any way that God’s people are to confess and repent for the sins of these nations before God can bless them, as if this would open the way for God to bring His salvation to them! God has promised to extend salvation to all peoples, but these verses above do not represent some new code of law like the one at Sinai, and which the unbelieving nations must keep, and for the church to intercede for them if they don’t keep it! No! The terms of this New Covenant which God extends to all nations now, is to whosoever believes! Men and women are saved by faith in Jesus Christ freely by God’s grace. That is the basis of the New Covenant. The presentation to men and women of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen is the door into this Covenant! There is no prior condition to men receiving and being blessed with this salvation. There is no intermediate covenant. There is no other covenant! (These verses above do not represent some kind of covenant relationship whereby God is saying, “ because I have promised to bless you with salvation through Christ, you are now in covenant relationship with me, and according to this covenant you cannot truly receive this salvation in fullness until the country you live in repents of its sins , past and present!!”) There is only the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Which one are you in? This kind of praying for past national sins is wrong. Later on, we shall look more closely at some scriptures which show us how God fulfils His purposes to bless unbelievers.
They refer to Jonah preaching to the people of Nineveh. Evil had become so widespread and had reached such extremes that God said that He would have to destroy the whole city. But evil had reached such proportions only because all the citizens as individuals had allowed it. No doubt apart from repenting for their own sins, they might indeed have expressed sorrow before God for their part in allowing evil to take such a hold on their city. However, this account only proves what we are saying in this article, namely, that it’s by bringing God’s word to people themselves that provides them with the opportunity for faith and repentance. Jonah spoke to their hearts directly and told them to repent. He didn’t tell them that they first had to repent generally for the sins of others in their city before God could bless and forgive them. Nor did they have to confess and repent of the sins of previous generations.
They quote Exo.10:16-18, saying that Moses interceded for Pharaoh, and therefore the church should identify with the sins of nations and repent on their behalf! Yes, Moses prayed to God for Pharaoh because Pharaoh acknowledged his sin and asked Moses to pray for him! That’s very different! Moses was not repenting for the sins of an unbeliever; and more importantly at that time Jesus was not the revealed mediator between God and man, so it was natural that Pharaoh should ask for Moses to pray for him, especially since Moses acted and spoke on God’s behalf to people (Ex.4:16). So this is not an example of their teaching, and even if it were, they are still in the wrong covenant if they continue as if Jesus hadn’t been revealed from heaven as men’s Saviour and Mediator. Here again we see how this teaching tries to place another mediator other than Christ between God and man for the atonement of his sins.
They do this also when they mention that Moses received forgiveness for Israel’s sin in Numbers14:17-21, and tell us that this means that the church through confessing the sins of a nation can obtain forgiveness for those national sins – just as Moses did for Israel! Here they commit two very serious errors. They confuse the world with the church again, and they don’t recognize as they should, that today there is one Mediator between God and man, and that is Christ Jesus. We know that Moses and his ministry pre-figure Christ and in that sense he was unique, as we can see in Ex 4:16, Numbers 12:6-8 and Dt.18:15. But these modern writers would tell us that because we are a royal priesthood, we too can obtain forgiveness not only for the saints, but for sins in our land. This is indeed blasphemy.
In the NT they quote Jesus asking the Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him, Lk. 23:34. But He wasn’t doing any more than He had taught us to do, namely, to forgive those who treat us despitefully, especially when they have no idea that they are doing so. We expect as Christians that we all follow Christ in this. But this doesn’t represent NT evidence that the church should be involved in repenting for the sins of a town or country! Even more amazingly, they also quote 1 John 1:9 , “….if we confess our sins,…”; and they say this verse shows us that the early church was involved in confessing the sins of the a town or country, past and present! They say that the Christians here were carrying out the tradition of the OT because the OT tradition was the only example they knew and had! The “tradition” that they are referring to, is the unique example of someone like Daniel or Nehemiah praying at the time of Israel’s Dispersion and Exile. But this related only to Israel and only to that unique period of their history! What? After Calvary and after receiving the Holy Spirit Christians didn’t have deeper and further understanding beyond this OT exception? This may certainly be true of these modern teachers but not of the apostles of the early church. This is such a corruption of God’s word that it should not be necessary to make any response to this, but suffice it to say that John uses the plural “we” and “our” throughout his letter in referring to the Lord’s people – or are we to say that the unbelieving community around us “have fellowship with the Father and the Son”?! (1John 1:3).
These are among the main verses that they give as examples or proof of their teaching, but this only clearly shows us that even these teachers cannot give any example, no not one, of the Lord’s people confessing or repenting for the sins of other countries or for the sins of any unbelievers. Now we clearly see that they are not really interested in being instructed from scripture in these matters, but use any scripture that they think will serve their purpose, and if it doesn’t, they force it do so, by twisting its meaning so that it fits into their system of teaching.
Some fundamental passages.
Now let us look at what could be considered the foundation for their whole system of thinking and teaching, concerning confessing the sins of past generations. The verse that they consider fundamental is found in Leviticus 26:40,
“ If they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers…” (You will need to look at the whole passage for yourself).
In this chapter God pronounces the judgements that He will bring on Israel if they repeatedly disobey Him, the final judgement being that God will dispossess them of their land and scatter them to different countries, but even then He will Have compassion on them and remember His covenant if they repent and confess their sins, verses 40-41. Largely on these verses do these modern teachers base and develop their ideas of “identificational confession and repentance” and confession or repentance of “corporate sins”. They say that what we read in Lev.26:40, is the Bible pattern for all repentance, both in the OT as well as NT! They teach that God cannot truly bless a people or nation (with revival, e.g.) until this process has been accomplished, i.e. that the church leads the way in confessing and repenting for the sins of the nation in order to achieve some kind of reconciliation – and this would then pave the way for secular confession of these national sins! But all this is human invention and we will now look at the reasons why this is so.
The people they quote as examples of this kind of confession and repentance are unsurprisingly, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Jeremiah, (e.g. Dan. 9:16) who all acknowledge the sins of the fathers in their prayers. The above verse from Leviticus together with the prayer examples of these men represent the foundation stone of this teaching. But why do I say it is unsurprising that they quote these particular men. Simply, because if we read the chapter (Lev. 26) and these verses in their context, it is clear from God Himself that this kind of confession (of the sins of previous generations) would occur at a particular time in Israel’s history, namely, when God had dispossessed them of their land and scattered them to other countries! Lev.26:27-42. This is what we discover when we actually read the chapter and let the Bible speak to us rather than trying to use it to support our own ideas. So it is no surprise that they do not quote any person praying in this way before Jeremiah’s time (in whose period God had already started to fulfil His judgements against Israel to scatter them). Together with Lev.26:40, Deuteronomy.30:1-3 and 2 Chronicles 6:36-39, clearly anticipate that confessing the sins of previous generations would be a part of Israel’s repentance after they had been scattered abroad – since it was the repeated rebellion of many generations that led to their scattering into foreign lands.
In such a circumstance of dispossession and exile, which represent a broken covenant, what could be more natural than this, namely, that God should want them to realize and acknowledge, i.e. to confess, that it is not just the sin of one generation but the repeated disobedience of successive generations that had resulted in Israel being banished from their land. He wanted them to understand that this wasn’t just a sudden harsh punishment because of that one generation, but that successive generations had turned their backs on His offered mercy and on His longsuffering. If we read Lev. 26 we see how longsuffering and merciful the Lord was towards Israel. He tells them that if they refuse to obey and follow Him then He will send certain types of judgement on them. Why? Just as a punishment or an enduring curse? No. In view of their hardness of heart, God would send such judgements and punishments as might make them consider the folly of their ways and so give them opportunity to repent and return to Him. And if they refused to take heed then He would increase the severity of these judgements in an attempt to make them realize that they were far from God and His gracious blessing. God, through these judgements, wanted that Israel come to her senses and return to Him just like the son in Luke 15. See Lev.26: 14, 18, 21, 23, 27. In so far as they would not listen to His word, we see that these judgements were in fact an expression of God’s mercy, in the sense that He wanted to create opportunities for them to realize their folly and repent and turn to Him.
So we notice that before the time of Exile, if any King of Israel or Judah together with the people repented and returned to the Lord, then the Lord blessed them; and they were blessed without confessing or needing to confess the sins of previous generations. (Though it might have been natural to mention such sins if they had been following in those self-same sins. Not in order to obtain further forgiveness or release, but simply as a recognition of what was sadly obvious and what perhaps needed to be cleansed from the country that had begun earlier. Never-the-less, we don’t find an example even of such a prayer before the Dispersion). For example, in the time of king Asa, Uzziah, Hezekiah and Josiah – we find them returning to the Lord without even acknowledging the sins of the fathers. They simply acknowledged their own sin and rebellion, and in many cases this would have been the same kind of idolatry and rebellion as previous Kings – but again they do not confess these sins of their predecessors because it simply was not required and had no purpose in affecting any kind of further reconciliation. And if this is generally and normally true for the Old Covenant, how much more is it true in the New Covenant where Christ has died to obtain reconciliation for the sins of the whole world! 1 John 2:2.
God called Israel “His son” whom He had redeemed out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1), and He made a covenant with them at Sinai. They were one nation and His people, and He dealt with them as His son, or as His bride, and He had promised and given them the land of Canaan as part of His covenant with them. But after bearing with their sin and idolatry for a long time, God had to drive them out of their land, and of course this was of great significance because possession of this land was part of the covenant that God had made with Israel and now this covenant had been broken by Israel’s unfaithfulness. Now that they were scattered abroad, they were to recognize that their continued unfaithfulness over many generations had led to their expulsion from the Promised Land. Men like Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 9:1-10, especially verse 7, as well as Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 30:6-9) recognized these things, namely, that it was Israel’s repeated rebellion that led to their exile. Apart from Lev.26:40, this kind of confession is also anticipated in Dt.30:1-5 and 1Kings 8:46-50, as we said, although here there is no mention of confessing the sins of the fathers in these passages. (At the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, some had been allowed to return to Jerusalem, but the fact remained that the people of Israel were largely dispersed and in exile, and their land was largely in the hands of others.)
So we see that this acknowledgement of Israel’s rebellion over many generations related specifically to the time of dispersion and exile, a time when Israel no longer possessed the land, even though later some were allowed to return. It related to a time when the covenant had been broken – a covenant specifically made between God and Israel. When they were confessing the sins of their fathers at the time of the Exile, they were simply acknowledging the cause of this Dispersion and Exile.
Let us now be quite clear about this. In the Bible, in both the OT and the NT, nowhere do the Lord’s people confess or repent for the sins of unbelievers – past or present – in their villages, towns or countries, in order to achieve some kind of reconciliation for the land! (We have already dealt with Moses praying for Pharaoh).There is no example, there is no instruction to do so.
Nowhere do the Lord’s people repent for the sins of any previous generation, whether for believers or unbelievers. This is an impossibility.
Only in one circumstance did God expect them to confess the sins of previous generations of the Lord’s people – and that was at the time of the Dispersion and Exile. At no other time, nor in any other circumstance, do we read about the Lord’s people even confessing the sins of previous generations, in order to secure some kind of reconciliation or blessing. These facts alone are more than sufficient to show how erroneous these modern teachings are, and how they are based upon falsehoods.
2 Chronicles 7:14
If we consider 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is also quoted, we note again that God refers to His people humbling themselves because of their sins, not on behalf of the sins of a heathen nation in which they may find themselves! This is so abundantly clear and yet is overlooked and ignored by those who follow sentiment more than scripture.
“If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
This so clearly refers to God’s dealings with His people alone. And as we have seen, this applied only in this given special circumstance where a nation – the nation of Israel – represented God’s people under the Old Covenant. Nowhere in scripture does God enjoin His people to confess and/or repent for the sins of sinners and unbelievers.
The Teaching of Ezekiel: Chapter 18
Why was Israel lead away captive into exile? Just because of the sins of previous generations? Were they being punished for their ancestors’ sins. No. God speaking through Ezekiel in chapter 18 tells us plainly that they were not being punished for the sins of their ancestors! Through Ezekiel God was actually rebuking His people for thinking and saying such a thing! Each person bears the judgement only for his own sins. Had Judah repented and turned to the Lord with all their heart in Jeremiah’s time, then God would have spared them and blessed them as He had done previously – Jer.26:1-7, in particular verse 3. But the fact is, that that generation continued in idolatry and rebellion against the word of the Lord, just as previous generations had done. It was the repeated rebellion of many generations, including this one, that led to the exile. But even to backsliding Israel, God in His kindness proclaims His mercy and bids them turn to Him and be restored to their land; Jer.3:12-14. In these passages and in many, many more throughout the Bible, God speaks to people about their own sin and how they should repent of their own ways and turn to Him. God never mentions repenting for the sins of their ancestors. Never. He never commanded them to confess the sins of their ancestors as something they should normally do. As we have seen in Lev.26:40, God expected them to confess the repeated and accumulative sins of many generations that resulted in their banishment from the Promised land. That was the only occasion, and for the particular reasons that we have already mentioned.
It was the people of Israel that wrongly thought that they were bearing the iniquity of their fathers – that they were being punished for the sins of their fathers. “ The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”. This is what the Israelites were saying, and they even argued with god about it in Ezekiel 18! God was not pleased at all with their evil imagination. Everything that we have been saying above is also supported in this chapter, particularly summarized in verses 19-23. And verse 20 proclaims:
“…The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son….”
In this chapter we see what is true in the whole Bible, namely, that each person is responsible for his own sin and can only repent for his own sin. There is no need to repent for the sins of our fathers, since we do not bear their iniquity nor the punishment for their sins. In the Bible this is the norm – that people repent of their own sins, not someone else’s! And although Jeremiah confesses the sins of the fathers at the time of Israel’s dispersion, the overwhelming burden and content of his message to God’s people at that time, is to their own hearts; bidding them leave their hardness of heart, pleading with them to leave their sin, exhorting them to repent and return to the Lord. This is what his ministry largely consists of – showing Israel at that time their sin and declaring both the mercy and judgement of God. We find this is true throughout the Bible. If you read Jeremiah and the other prophets; if you read Judges, Kings and Chronicles; if you read the NT; you will find that God’s word comes through God’s servants bidding people who have sinned to turn, or to return to the Lord. It comes to the people themselves about their own sins; convincing them of their sins and bidding them repent – not bidding them repent for the sins of someone else. And so we see individuals and communities repenting of their sin and receiving God’s blessing without any mention of the sins of previous generations – whether believers or unbelievers! This is what is normal. But this new teaching takes what is the exception (what related to the time of the Dispersion), distorts it terribly, and then makes it the rule – makes it a law and bondage for God’s people! But again, in all the above cases, let us notice that it is a matter of the prophets exhorting and praying for God’s people – not for the world, not for unbelievers. Where do these modern teachers get their ideas from?
Particularly in the New Covenant, Christ’s death at Calvary deals with our past and delivers us from our past – 2 Cor.5:17,18; Rom.6:6; 1Peter1:18 – when we turn to Him and are born again. The cross of Christ is the glorious cut off point from sin, from its guilt, judgement and dominion in our lives, and from all condemnation. It’s the cut off point from the sin of our fathers and all the judgement that goes with it. The power of the Cross is greater than we know, Eph.1:16-23. It is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes, and there is certainly no need or requirement to repent for the sins of our fathers, since Christ’s death has dealt with all sin and we cannot achieve further reconciliation by such repentance – not for ourselves and nor for the town or country we live in. And the sin of our ancestors and the judgement for it cannot touch us when we are Christ’s. We are free because the Son has made us free. This modern teaching simply wants to bring us back into bondage.
In Jeremiah 31:29-34, God says the same thing that He spoke through Ezekiel 18. God tells them that the day is coming when they shall not use that expression any more, namely, that the children’s teeth are set on edge because the fathers have eaten sour grapes. God wanted to put an end to them blaming past generations for their own sins! God then tells them of the New Covenant that He is going to establish in which He will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more. This is wonderfully clear, but commenting on these verses one of these modern scholars says that Calvary and the New Covenant do not do away with the need to confess the sins, both of our fathers and of the towns and countries we live in! Even despite what is said in 1Peter1:18, he teaches, along with others, that children and communities are still influenced by the judgements that belong to the sins of the fathers and previous generations and that therefore we can only achieve complete reconciliation and obtain God’s full blessing through confessing these sins of the past! Dear reader, what can be done or said when men oppose God and His truth so directly. God says one thing and they say, “No. It isn’t so.”
Now we come to another passage which these modern writers consider fundamental and which forms the basis of their teaching concerning not only repenting for national and ancestral sin, but also concerning curses and what they call “territorial spirits”. The part they focus on is where it talks about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children up to the third and fourth generations. From this passage, together with Lev.26:40, they invent a new expression which is not found in the Bible. They call this sin, “generational sin”. By this term, they are not referring to the law of sin and death which has been at work in every person since the fall of Adam, and for which Christ died to cleanse and free us. No. From this passage they teach that when one generation or person commits idolatry or sin, then this sin and the judgement due to this sin, passes onto the next generation, in a way that prevents God’s blessing. And because of Lev.26:40, they say that these sins of past generations need to be repented of! These two verses from Exodus and Leviticus they apply to all people – Jew or Gentile, saint or sinner – from the day God gave the law to Israel at Sinai, right down to the present day! They also teach that Calvary has not changed the need to repent for the sins of previous generations. If we don’t do this, then the sin of previous generations and its judgement still affects us and still deprives us of God’s full blessing and also gives a legal basis for the devil to work in peoples lives and their communities! But all this is an impossible interpretation of these passages.
We have already seen how much of this is complete error and invention. We have also seen how they completely misuse Lev.26:40. Now as we look at the passage in Ex. 20, we find there is no command to the Lord’s people to repent for the sins of the fathers. This idea is not even mentioned.
In Exodus 20, God declares to Israel that He is the Lord their God who brought them out of Egypt. God warns them not to have any other Gods besides Him for is a jealous God, who visits the iniquity of the fathers onto their children, unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Him. The force and weight of the meaning of verse 5, (see also Deut.5:9), is upon them that hate Him – those that continue to reject God and His word to them, and who choose to follow in the sins of their fathers. Those that hate Him are ensnared and led astray by their fathers’ sins, and this sin and rebellion can have an increasing effect and force when each successive generation chooses to reject Him, for which of course they shall be judged. But a person can turn from their father’s sin and if he does, God pardons and receives him without him needing to repent for his fathers sins. But it is also very important to note that it does not say that God conveys the punishment or judgement of the fathers’ sins onto the children! Ezekiel 18 confirms this point. The children do not bear the iniquity or punishment of their fathers’ sins, except if they choose to continue to walk in them. They are visited with the sins of their fathers, which is quite different. It is clear that if a child is brought up by parents who sin and rebel against the Lord, then this child is exposed to their evil influence and God’s blessing is also absent from the family. So the parents’ sins become a snare to the child and of course he will be tempted to follow their evil example, instead of following the Lord. Exodus 20 and Ezekiel 18 stand in complete harmony with each other in illustrating that children can be badly influenced and ensnared by the sins of their fathers, but God always treats us as individuals and allows each one to make his own response to Him. So, though the parents sins will be a snare to their children, yet they can still make a choice – they can choose to turn away from the evil ways of their fathers and turn to the Lord. This is made very clear by Ezekiel 18 and also by God’s repeated pleadings to Israel over successive generations to turn away from their evil and the evil of their fathers and return to Him with all their heart. He didn’t just abandon His people to the sins of their fathers. He sent His word to every generation through His prophets, bidding His people return to Him. There are many examples of this, as in Isaiah 1:18,19. We also see how when Asa, Hezekiah or Josiah (2 Chron. 14, 29 and 34) turned away from the sins of their predecessors and turned back to God, then the people were greatly blessed of God. God’s presence was with them again, with His blessing and protection. And at no time do we see any of these Kings before the Dispersion repent for the sins of their fathers. They repented of their own sins, which of course may have been the same sins as their fathers – but it was only their own repentance that was called for. And when they did this, God immediately and abundantly pardoned and blessed them. All this is totally consistent with verse 6 of Ex.20 (where we see that God’s mercy is far greater than His judgement unto those that love Him and obey Him), and with Ezekiel 18, where we are told that a son, upon considering his father’s evil ways, can turn away from that evil and break free of his father’s sins as he turns to the Lord, who will forgive him completely and not hold anything against him. When we are speaking of a person’s relationship to God, God does not hold the sins of his father against him nor punish him for those sins! The son is forgiven and blessed without repenting for the sins of his father! These modern teachers want to lock us into the sins of our fathers and ancestors in a way that wasn’t even known in the OT, and that certainly has nothing to do with the NT!
I must say that the passage in Ex.20:4,5 contains things that are not easy to explain and I cannot say that I have explained it perfectly. But as the Bible is the best commentary on the Bible, when we look at this passage in the light of other passages, although we might not be able to explain it perfectly, yet there is plenty sufficient from these scriptures that we have looked at, to see that what is taught by these modern writers, is something that is not taught by God’s word. Please see the second article on Curses for a fuller exposition of this passage.
The expression “generational sin” has been invented by these modern writers only for the purpose of supporting their unbiblical ideas. The expression does not exist in the Bible, and they use it to support ideas that do not exist in the Bible. Of course the evil life and example of parents and community can influence and affect others who are still growing up, and in such a way as might help harden their hearts to the Gospel. This is very natural and nothing new. What is new, is this teaching which says that when turning to the Lord, as well as repenting of their own sins, a person or community also needs to repent of the sins of their fathers or of the previous generations.
They find “examples” of “generational sin” in the NT! What are their ‘proof’ texts? Well, they are Matthew 23:32-35 and 1Thess.2:16. They tell us these verses “prove” that the NT teaches generational sin and that therefore we also need to repent of the sins of past generations! I don’t think so. These verses do not teach us that we ought to repent for the sins of our ancestors! They refer to the Jews and how they choose to continue to resist God. The point is not they are forced to continue in the sins of their fathers, but that they choose to. This is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He was expecting them to receive Him, but they choose not to. This forms the basis of their unavoidable judgement. The other verse they quote as proof is 1 Peter1:18. But this wonderful verse proves the opposite of what they are teaching! It tells us what I have been saying in this article, namely, that the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is totally effective and sufficient to redeem us from our corrupt past and from the vain traditions of our fathers. We are redeemed! We have been bought back with the blood of Jesus. There is no more condemnation to those who are in Christ. Praise God! Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies! Who is he that condemns? Not Him who died for us and now intercedes for us at God’s right hand! (Rom. 8:33,34). But this new teaching would bring condemnation on all of us, telling us that neither we nor the communities we live in are fully free from the judgement of God till we repent from the sins of our fathers! This is no surprise, because if you bring someone back under the law, you inevitably bring them under condemnation. And this is the nature of this teaching.
Confusing the church with the world.
Although they spanned many generations, yet Israel’s history is considered as God’s dealings with one son. It is one physical nation with one history. The Church is one spiritual body, but consists of many different local churches in many different places with people who come from many different nationalities. And these obviously do not share the same history or spiritual development – see the NT letters and Rev. chapters 2-4 – as was the case in the OT. So, generally and practically speaking, the church today cannot be considered as one physical unit, in the way that was obviously so in the OT with the people of Israel. Now, if someone like Achan (Joshua 7:1) or Saul (2 Samuel 21:1) sinned, this could bring trouble on all the people of Israel and God’s blessing would be withheld. Again, this modern teaching says, “You see, because these men sinned, God withheld His blessing from the whole nation of Israel, God’s people, so we need to repent of the sins of our country!” Well firstly, our country is in heaven, and secondly, these passages don’t teach us that the Church should confess and repent for the sins of the world, namely, the country we live in. Rather, the instruction we gain from these OT passages is simply that today, if God’s people sin, this will have consequences in their lives or in the life of a church (Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor.5:6; Rev. 2:5.) What we sow, we reap. If we’ve done something wrong, then we need to put it right. And sometimes putting things right involves more than repenting – sometimes because of the consequences of our wrong actions, we may need to restore something or confess something to others. And of course, if we don’t put things right as we should, we will grieve the Spirit and we will not live in God’s true and full blessing. His Spirit will seek to convict us until we put things right. If we have sown carnally, then we must put things right in our lives or in the church’s life by repenting of our own sins which have brought evil consequences into our lives. But repenting for the sins of the world or for the sins of previous generations is not taught by any of these verses.
These teachers want to make a comparison with Achan’s sin – how one person’s sin can affect the whole community. Well, Achan was one of God’s people and he sinned. His sin deprived Israel – God’s people – of God’s protection and blessing. Are they now teaching us that if a Christian sins in one part of the world in a certain church, then God withholds His blessing from all Christians all over the world until we all discover who had sinned and then the whole church world-wide repents for that person’s sin? So the whole church world-wide would need to know and repent for the sin of every single Christian who had sinned or who was sinning, before we can live in God’s blessing! Dear reader, can you see what trouble their teachings cause as they try to bend the meaning of the scriptures to fit their ideas?
As we mentioned above, the NT differs from the OT in that God’s chosen people in the OT are represented by one physical nation with one history. The church in the NT consists of many different peoples in many different places. Again, they totally confuse the biblical teaching concerning the church and the world. And there is no example of the church in the NT praying for the sins of any past generations. Nor is the Church represented by any country on earth. The church consists of saved souls out of every kindred tribe and nation!
Now, in this article I have been using the two words “confess” and “repent” because both these words are freely used in this modern teaching as though they could apply to the same situation, but one of their own writers acknowledges clearly and correctly that there is no way that any of these OT men, like Daniel or Nehemiah, could repent for the sins of previous generations. You cannot repent of any evil that you have not been involved in, because “repent” means to change your attitude and to turn from the evil that you have done. So although Daniel could repent of any sin he had committed, he could not and did not repent for the sins of the fathers. He could not, because firstly they were not his sins (he did confess and repent of his own sins, yet the sin of rebelling against God was not his), and secondly, there is no way anyone can receive forgiveness for people who have died – that would truly be a superstitious and ungodly practice!
Now although some of these teachers would acknowledge that this is true, yet both in their literature and in their preaching they nevertheless talk about repenting for the sins of the fathers (which is an impossibility) or applying the blood of Jesus to city or national sins and thereby obtaining reconciliation for the people there (which is superstitious if not blasphemous! No prayer of ours can effect forgiveness for people who are alive or who have died, and we certainly cannot use the blood of our Saviour in this way. His blood is not some kind of charm!).
Now, what Daniel and others could certainly do, was to grieve over the sins of the Lord’s people, to whom He belonged. His love towards God and towards God’s people would naturally lead him to be very grieved that Israel had rebelled against the Lord and that God’s people themselves had deprived themselves of His rich blessing. Indeed, our sense of oneness with the Lord’s people should lead us to be grieved and to humble ourselves before God when the Church is not living in her inheritance which Christ has purchased for us at Calvary. Rather than criticizing the church, we should humble ourselves and ask for His mercy to help in time of need, and of course this might well include confessing such things as have caused this great need among us, in the church. Indeed, the Spirit of Christ would lead us in this way. (Rom.8: 26,27; Eph.6:19). But this is not the same as repenting “for” someone else’s sins. Paul certainly prayed for the saints (Gal.4:19), but he did not repent for their sins. He sought the Lord on their behalf but then made very sure the word of truth came to them to lead them back to Christ.
So, we see that in the Bible, confessing or repenting for the sins of previous generations of unbelieving people in cities or nations, in order to secure God’s present blessing or reconciliation, is never carried out by the Lord’s people. Nor was this kind of praying for previous generations normal for God’s people when considering their own sins. This kind of confession related only to the time of Israel’s dispossession and exile; and it only applied to Israel because of the unique covenant that God had with Israel and His unique historical dealings with them because of this covenant. And perhaps most importantly of all, this kind of confession of what they call “generational” sins took place before Christ died on Calvary, who alone is the one Mediator between God and man, since He has borne away the sins of all mankind (1 John 2:2)! This new teaching presents something different and contrary to the fullness of grace which is portrayed in the preaching of Christ and Him crucified.
A covenant with the nations?
There is another point which it would be good to clarify from scripture. We have already mentioned that they would have us believe that we should pray for the cities or countries we live in (the world) as Daniel did for Israel (God’s people), and that God has a covenant with the nations which allows this kind of prayer. We have seen how wrong all this is, but how do they make this “jump” from God’s people to unbelievers? Well, they quote a verse like Dt. 32:8, where it says that God “….divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam….”, and this refers to geographical division in the earth. Now this new teaching says that God could only do this on the basis of a “legal covenant” with these nations, and therefore they too have, or can have, a covenant relationship with God as Israel did in the OT, and therefore the church can pray for the past sins of the countries they live in!? It seems this deception knows no limits of distorting the truth!
Jesus Christ brought in the New to take away the Old, (Heb. 7:12,18,19,22; 8:13; 10:9), but these teachers are establishing their own version of the Old and in the process are tearing down the New! “ O, foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” All this is indeed superstitious invention. We have clearly seen that Daniel’s confession relates to Israel’s repeated rebellion against God, against the special revelation of Himself that He gave to them, and against the Covenant He specifically made with them through Abraham and at Sinai. This covenant has no parallel with any other nation in scripture.
God has planned and promised more than just some division of earthly inheritance for this world. God has graciously planned for the salvation of all people who will believe in Him – from whatever nation or tribe they come from! This is wonderfully clear from the scriptures and we rejoice in it with all our hearts! But nowhere does God even mention, let alone require, Christians or anyone else to be involved in this superstitious process of confessing or repenting for the national sins of previous generations as though this would secure God’s blessing and salvation for our city or country. It is clear from scripture that God has already secured blessing and salvation for all peoples through the death of His Son on Calvary. We can pray for the spread of the Gospel so that people may hear the message of Christ and Him crucified and turn to Him from their sins, and He will freely forgive them.
That very verse which one of their writers quotes from Dt.32:8 is also quoted by Paul in Acts17:24-31 (v.26). Here Paul is speaking to the Athenians about their idolatry. But he doesn’t tell them that God’s curse is on them because of Ex.20:5, and that they need to repent of the city’s idolatrous past before God can bless them. No. He tells them that God set the bounds of their countries so that people might seek the lord (v.27) – he says nothing about a covenant relationship from the OT which now requires them to repent of the many past sins of the city-state of Athens, its wars and idolatry! No! He instead tells them that God winked at the time of their ignorance, but now bids all men to repent. Then he starts to tell them about Jesus and His resurrection.
Similarly, in Acts 14:16 when the men of Lystra wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, Paul did not scold and tell them that they were under the curse of God because of their terrible idolatry and that they had to repent of the sins of their ancestors, before God could bless them and their country. No! He told them he was a man as they were, and clearly but graciously urged them, to turn from these things to the living God, who, Paul says, “…in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, but He didn’t leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave us rain from heaven….filling our hearts with food and gladness”. This would have been the perfect opportunity for Paul to have validated these new teachings, but he does nothing of the sort; he doesn’t go around preaching curses and judgements because of “generational sins” which people need to confess and repent of! My dear reader, please notice how the scriptures present the opposite picture to the one these teachings create.
In terms of the preaching of the Gospel, God is laying no obligation upon the nations for the sins of previous generations (Rom.3:24,25). In fact, Paul says that God winked at these times of ignorance and rather than talking of curses, Paul speaks in terms of the general blessings that God graciously continued to bestow down the ages on all peoples. And this is not surprising because contrary to what this new teaching would have us believe, God had not revealed Himself in a special way to other nations as He had with Israel in the OT; He had not revealed His righteous and holy nature through His law and prophets, and appeared to them in special manifestations; He had not established a covenant with them by which He would now judge them. No. Apart from the innate recognition that should be in men and women concerning God as their creator and Lord (Rom.1:19,20), basically, they had had no special revelation concerning His righteous nature and His righteous demands, except through the testimony of Israel, and so God was not particularly holding them responsible for the past (to whom little is given, little is required). On the contrary, He continued to be good to them and bless them, but as Paul says, now bids them all repent – of their own sins! – and turn to the living God. Hallelujah! This is the Gospel!
The very verse they use to support their teaching, Dt. 32:8, is quoted and explained by Paul to teach the opposite of their ideas! They say you have to confess or repent for the sins of “your country” because of a “covenantal relationship” (?!) between God and that country, before God can truly bless you and that country. Paul says that God knew the nations were ignorant of His nature and righteousness and therefore in His goodness and mercy He winked at these times of ignorance, was even good to them, but now bids them all repent because the salvation which is offered in Christ Jesus! This is the grace, wonder and simplicity of the Gospel! Let us treasure it, keep it and proclaim it!
We can now see how great a mistake they make. The very foundation of their teaching is based on the mistake of substituting or confusing God’s people with unbelievers. They are treating sinners and unbelievers as if they were God’s people living under the Old Covenant – where the church is supposed to pray for the world as Daniel did for Israel! So they commit two huge and fundamental errors; firstly, unbelievers are not God’s redeemed people and cannot be treated or counted as such in preaching or praying (though of course, we are to pray and preach the Gospel to them). Secondly, when Jesus Christ died on Calvary He cried out, “ It is finished!” This included the Old Covenant. It is finished, for Christ has delivered us from the law (Rom.7:6). The law and the prophets were until John, but now the Kingdom of God is preached (Mtt.11:12,13, Lk.16:16) – or at least it should be! We are no longer under the Old Covenant – but that is where they would place us if they could. Even worse, what they teach is a corrupted form of the Old Covenant. We have seen how their whole teaching is founded on their own interpretation of Exodus 20:3-5 and Lev.26:40. Is this New Covenant revelation?
Looking at what the scriptures say.
This modern teaching takes the focus away from Christ and magnifies the OT, and also reveals a lack of understanding of what the New Covenant is about. To show how this is so, it would now be beneficial to look at what the scriptures do say about some of these matters. We have already shown that the NT has not one example of this new kind of teaching.
Let us see what the NT does teach. In 2 Cor. 5 : 19 we read that,
“….God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them….”
Rom. 5 : 8,10 says,
“ But God commends his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son……”
Ephesians 2 : 16,17 tells us,
“And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby; and came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to them that were nigh.”
These are precious and significant verses because they reveal the heart of the Gospel, the ground of our salvation and the wonderful grace of God to us in Jesus Christ. While we were yet sinners – before we even thought about God or cared about Him or His commandments, before we moved towards Him in any way at all, He Himself, God the Father through His Son Jesus, purposed to move towards us and on our behalf, to secure for us the forgiveness of our sins and the breaking of its power in our lives and the removal of all judgement over our lives because of those past sins, (Rom. 3:24-28). This He did at Calvary, freely bearing our sins away and destroying its power. This was not just some afterthought. All this happened according to His eternal purpose and the good pleasure of His will. God accomplished everything on our behalf freely. It is by grace and because of the grace of God that men are forgiven and saved. It was done for them even though they were dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2 : 4-9), and now God justifies the ungodly by faith alone, without the works of the law (Rom. 4:4,5) – and without the saints trying to obtain forgiveness and reconciliation for sinners, cities or nations by repenting for their sins; in other words, without the saints adding to this grace and work of God achieved at Calvary through Christ!
We have been redeemed from the vain conduct which we received through the tradition of our fathers by the precious blood of Christ, 1 Pet. 1:18,19. There is no need to go digging up their past sins (namely, of our fathers) in order for us to receive this full salvation and to be completely free! Christ’s blood has redeemed us! Who or what would condemn us, accuse us or keep us in bondage? The sins of our fathers? No! Christ’s blood avails completely and for all time, and His salvation is full and free to all who will repent and believe! Some of these modern teachers say that these verses in 1 Peter “prove” the idea of “generational sin” and that we therefore have to confess or repent for these sins of past generations. It does nothing of the sort. It actually teaches the opposite of their doctrine. Their doctrines and expositions are simply a continual attack on the work of Christ on Calvary, on the fullness and freedom that God offers in Christ to all men and women.
This truth of our full salvation is further exemplified in Rom. 5:15-21, where we read that the sin and judgement that came upon all men because of the first Adam, Christ, the second Adam, has freely removed by His death on Calvary, granting forgiveness and righteousness to all who would believe. In other words, all their sins would not be held against them, because Christ had taken the burden and responsibility for that, even as Isaiah reports in the famous 53rd chapter. This is the meaning of 2 Cor. 5:19.
This is the good news of the Gospel and men and women are now called to believe this good news and to turn away from their sin. This faith is their salvation. Hence we read that God was in Christ … not imputing their trespasses unto them (for He would remove that Himself). So we read that Jesus told the lame man who was brought for healing in Lk.5 that his sins were forgiven, freely, because he believed. In John 8 He tells the woman taken in adultery that He does not condemn her but that she should go and sin no more. He offers the waters of salvation freely to a Samaritan woman in John 4. Truly forgiveness was now free and God was reconciling men and women to Himself because He was going to remove the great sin-barrier that had kept all men in bondage to sin and death from the time of Adam. The whole basis of things was going to change because of Calvary (“ …for all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” Mt. 11:13). In Lk.13:1-5, Jesus makes it very clear to those he is talking to, that there aren’t some people who are bigger sinners than others. All are dead in trespasses and sin – whether they sin outwardly a lot, or little, there is no difference. Everyone’s condition is the same, (Rom. 3 : 10,12, 23). It is not so much what people do, but that their condition – the condition of all men and women – is one of sin and death and of separation from God. This had not been fully revealed in the OT because there was no full and real remedy for this condition of sin at that time (Gal. 3: 22-25; 4:3-5; Rom. 3:19-22; Heb. 1:1,2; 9:6,9; 10:1-4,9,10. ). But with the appearance of Jesus came the revelation of the extent and depth of man’s corruption, because God was now also providing the complete remedy for this condition – and He was doing this freely, out of the abundance of His grace and love. He came, not judging them for their sins which He would die for – John 3:17; 12:47 – but to offer salvation freely to all who would repent and believe the Gospel. This is the meaning of those great verses in John 3:16-18. God knew that all men were in bondage to sin and that death reigned in them because of sin. He was not condemning them for that – all that was the result of Adam’s sin and He was going to bear all that sin and judgement away at Calvary. What this new teaching does, is to resurrect these sins that Jesus had shed His blood for, and then to get the saints to pray for these sins! These modern teachers would deny this, but nevertheless it is a consequence of what they teach.
This is also illustrated in how they misuse 2 Cor. 5:19. They say that this ministry of reconciliation is an important part of the churches ministry. Yes, indeed. But what do they mean? They destroy the meaning of this passage by saying that it is part of the churches ministry to reconcile the world, (the city or country we live in), to God; and how? By confessing or repenting for the sins of the country we live in and appropriating the blood of Jesus for these sins! But this meaning is nowhere given by Paul! He doesn’t say that God is in the church and leading the saints today to confess and repent for the sins of the community, so that He may forgive them! He says that God was in Christ, and in Christ He was reconciling the world to Himself and not imputing their trespasses unto them! Now, why resurrect the sins that God is not imputing to the world? So that the church should confess and repent for them?! This is a contradiction and total confusion. This whole passage from v.14 to v.21 is primarily referring to what God did, through Christ, at Calvary, on behalf of mankind. It is done! God has done it! It is finished! And no one can add anything to it! In v.18 he tells us that God reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. It wasn’t the church through its prayers of confession or repentance that did this! This teaching is trying to supplant or add to the fullness of Calvary through the invention of this further work of reconciliation, which the church is supposed to fulfil.
Paul is not confessing or repenting for anyone’s sin in this passage! What is this “word” or “ministry of reconciliation” that Paul mentions in vv.18,19? Well, he tells us! “….and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them…”! The declaring of this message, is the word or ministry of reconciliation – telling people what God has done in Christ on their behalf is the message of grace that brings peace and reconciles men and women to God!! Look what Paul is doing in this passage. He is not trying to obtain reconciliation for the carnal behaviour of some of the Corinthians through his prayers of repentance on their behalf. In this passage he declares to the Corinthians what God has done in Christ on their behalf, and consequently what kind of people they should be. In the light of these glorious truths, he now bids them be reconciled to God – “ as though God were pleading through us (not praying prayers of repentance through us !), we implore you…..be reconciled to God”
But to continue now with our theme. The real problem is not that men commit theft, murder etc. The condemnation is this – that they don’t believe the Good News and turn away from darkness. In Jn. 16:9 we read that when the Holy Spirit has come He will convict men of sin. Now it is very important to notice and understand why He convinces them of sin. In the first instance, it is not because of lying, stealing, witchcraft, adultery or murder. The Holy Spirit convinces them of sin because they believe not. This is what prevents men from being saved – their unbelief. Calvary has dealt with sin and its power. Let men now repent and believe the Gospel. This new teaching about repenting for the sins of sinners attacks and undermines this truth.
Yes, of course, if a person is involved in uncleanness, drunkenness or witchcraft, he may well need particular deliverance from these things in a way that is not necessary for others. These things can and do mar and damage a person’s life. But the answer is not for others to start repenting for their sins, but to pray, for example, that a door of utterance for the Gospel may be opened to these people. In the NT the biggest problem for the spread and reception of the Gospel never seems to be the ‘sinfulness’ of people – the sins they do – but unbelief. In the Gospels it was the sinners that flocked to Jesus – the robbers, the prostitutes, the unclean and the demon-possessed – not the religious people; they are the ones who didn’t believe in Him! In His own home town He could not do many miracles at all, not because of the iniquity of that town but because of their unbelief. (Mtt. 13:58). In the Acts, it wasn’t primarily peoples’ sins – their witchcraft, their drunkenness and murder – that represented resistance to the Gospel. In the will of God Paul and others walked straight into situations and cities like this, such as Samaria and Ephesus, and God worked wonderfully (without praying or preaching that one had to repent for the sins of the city). It was unbelief that was the problem – hardness of heart towards the truth; often from religious people, whether they were Jewish or from those involved in idolatry. As you read Acts you see that it wasn’t the sins of people that was the problem, it was hardness of heart towards the truth; unbelief – for whatever reason.
(Yes, men will also be judged in that day according to their works as the scriptures clearly indicate, and they are to be told this; but in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel, we are foremost to declare to all people God’s free forgiveness in Christ, who was raised from the dead for their justification. Not to believe and receive this, is the sin of mankind.)
In the light of all this truth and revelation, how could the apostles possibly repent, or ask others to repent for the sins of unbelievers in their cities or nation? Jesus Christ had already died for their sins and paid the price for their reconciliation (1 Jn 2:2)! Forgiveness and salvation have already been achieved in Christ. Men must now believe the Good News and they themselves are the ones who must repent of their sins. Christ suffered once for sins, and do we now think to add to His finished work by repenting for those sins before God and asking forgiveness by the blood of Jesus – when His shed blood at Calvary had already achieved this?! Can our suffering in prayer and repentance obtain any further forgiveness for sinners? Or do we think that our repentance for their sins will somehow enable God to now bless the region and its people with the Gospel? (People may think that they are being like Daniel in doing this but they are sadly and badly mistaken). What? God forgave men and women at Calvary freely, then the saints repent for those sins in their prayers so that God can forgive them their wicked acts (again?), and this then enables God to bless the city or region so that sinners themselves can then also repent of those sins and receive forgiveness (again)?! What confusion is this? What an unhealthy mixture of OT and NT ideas, that can only deceive people concerning the truth. Even more amazing is the fact that some preachers and evangelists go to cities and preach publicly to both saints and sinners that they must repent for the sins of their country – instead of presenting unbelievers with the true Gospel message of Christ and Him crucified; that Christ has died and risen from the dead and borne away all sin, for their forgiveness and justification! Instead, they come in the style of some OT prophet, such as Jonah or Jeremiah, proclaiming God’s judgement on a nation because of its sins, whereas we are plainly told that God, who in times past spoke unto the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by His Son. It is not just that God has chosen a completely different Person, but that the message and ministry are also now completely new because of that Person, Jesus Christ and what He has done! The law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. But these other preachers today are preaching something that is closer to law and judgement rather than Gospel grace. But even in the case of Jonah, he told the Ninevites themselves to repent. He didn’t ask them to repent on behalf of the sins of others in the city! And Jonah certainly didn’t repent for their sins.
Men receive this forgiveness and salvation which Christ has already purchased for them, when they hear and believe the Good News. Before men have repented of their sins or heard the Good News, our prayers and repentance cannot persuade God to forgive them those sins or bring about reconciliation for them or for the country. To think and to do this, is nothing but religious superstition. It has no foundation in the Word of God. Yes, God has forgiven their sins in Christ because of Calvary, but this is not effective in their lives until they repent and believe the Gospel. So let us indeed pray that the Lord will send out labourers to bring the word of God to men and women add them to His church.
It is one thing to pray that the Lord would send labourers into the harvest (Lk.10:2), or to enable His servants to preach the Gospel with effect (Eph. 6:19), or that He would work wonderfully through His people to reach the unbelievers (Acts 4:29,30), or to be grieved because of the hardness of heart of those we know and of others also and so to pray that God would save them (1Tim. 2:3,4; Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1), or to humble oneself and pray and intercede at the Throne of Grace for God’s merciful intervention, when others sin or go astray (Gal. 4:19) – all of which we can and should do – but it is quite something else to start repenting for the sins of sinners and thereby think that we are obtaining forgiveness and reconciliation for them and our country!
What confusion of thought and folly is this! How far have we strayed from Biblical teaching and thought – first, to pray for what God has already done (i.e. forgiven men in Christ, and that, freely), and then try and realize this forgiveness in their lives in a totally inappropriate way, i.e. through “identificational confession or repentance”! Do we tempt God by so ignoring His word and opposing His truth? It is not that people are deliberately opposing God’s truth, but nevertheless this is the result and effect of these teachings. By adding their prayers to obtain forgiveness for sinners, they actually attack the truth that forgiveness has already been obtained for men and women in Christ. They also distort the truth about the nature of sin and the fullness of God’s forgiveness in Christ by thinking that it is “bad” sins like drunkenness, uncleanness, witchcraft, etc. that stop the Gospel from entering a region, rather than recognizing that, 1: All are equally dead in trespasses and sin; and 2: that Christ has now dealt with that sin completely and freely and it is therefore chiefly through declaring Good News that men are brought to repentance and life, rather than coming and preaching judgement on the sins of people like some OT prophet and then getting people to repent for the sins of others – whether in their city, region or country; and 3: that it is unbelief that is the sin that men are condemned for and that prevents them from receiving forgiveness and salvation.
What then is God’s way of bringing the reality of this forgiveness into men’s lives? It is through the preaching of the Gospel – Christ and Him crucified – bidding men repent and believe the Gospel. We may all say that this is clear to us. But what is also clear is that some people do not see that these new teachings take us away from NT truth and try to baptize us into OT ideas – but even those ideas are not correctly interpreted. This approach also presents the unbelievers with a false image of the Gospel and with a false image of God.
What does “Gospel” mean? It means, “good news”. Praise God! That’s how He describes this new covenant message to sinners! And the expression, “to preach the Gospel”, in our Bible is often the translation of one word in the Greek (uangelizo), which can be translated as, “to declare, proclaim” or “preach good news”.
Right at the beginning when Jesus comes to this earth, the angels proclaim his coming as “tidings of great joy”,Lk.2:10. Jesus begins his ministry by declaring the good news of the Kingdom of God, Lk. 4:43; then continues preaching this good news during his ministry, Lk. 8:1; and commands his disciples to proclaim it to every creature! And throughout the NT, this message of God, this word of truth, is referred to as “the good news”, Eph.1:13, and is declared to all – Col.1:5,6; 2Tim.4:17. And of this Gospel Paul was not ashamed, because “it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes”, Rom.1:16. Paul is quite clear and definite about this. He tells the Corinthians that Christ sent him “not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, not with the wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” 1Cor.1:17. So he was determined not to know anything apart from “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” as he travelled around, because the preaching of the cross, he declares, is the power of God to those who are being saved; 1Cor.1:18; 2:2. So why don’t men then cease coming and preaching in the style of some OT prophet, proclaiming curses and judgements on cities and countries because of ancestral sin?! Why do they not cease from adding to the Gospel their own message which is according to their own wisdom and by which they rob the Gospel of its truth and power?! Why are they preaching this other gospel?! In magazines, newspapers and at public meetings, instead of preaching Christ, they are trying to expose all the evils of society and telling people to repent for the sins of their community so that God might remove His curse and Judgement from their region. O, the folly of it! O, the deception of it! O, the tragedy of it! Proclaim this from the house-tops and let everyone hear and understand, that God, through Christ His Son, has already removed the curse and judgement on behalf of all of us. We receive forgiveness and salvation freely if we only believe and repent (of our own sins). Our repentance for the sins of unbelievers will not effect any further reconciliation or forgiveness than the blood of Christ at Calvary has already achieved; Acts 13:38,39; Rom. 5:18; Col.2:13-15. In Paul’s first recorded preaching in Acts 13, he tells them that God has sent the “word of this salvation” to them, v.26. He doesn’t ask the Jews to repent for all the hardness of their leaders in Jerusalem and elsewhere, nor does he tell the God-fearing gentiles to repent for the sins of Antioch in order that God might bless them and their region!!
(Let me say here though, that it is something else if a man of God comes to warn the church of the condition it is in, and how the church needs to cleanse itself. Of this we do have ample examples in the NT. Also, let no one think that I am saying we should be indifferent to the evil around us in society and that we can’t be grieved or pray because of such evil. I’m am simply focusing on erroneous responses and teachings concerning the evils in society.)
From many scriptures we see that central to this Gospel is preaching Jesus Christ to people – Acts 5:42; 8:12,25; 11:20 – and declaring His resurrection as the ground and assurance of God’s forgiveness and salvation; Acts 2:22-33; 4:10-12; 5:30,31;10:40-43;13:30-33; 17:18. This is the Gospel. This is the apostolic and NT example. It is Christ’s resurrection that is central and vital to the Gospel message because it is only thereby that people have forgiveness and salvation. The main danger now is if men refuse to believe and receive this Good News, Acts 13:40,41,46. But at heart, this Gospel brings a message of peace to men and women, Acts 10:36. It is the Gospel of God’s grace, Acts 20:24, and is declared to be the Gospel of our salvation, Eph. 1:13. It is the Gospel of utter and wonderful grace that brings to us the power of eternal life, 2Tim.1:9,10 – a truly glorious Gospel, 1Tim.1:11! Indeed, this Gospel is the Gospel of God, 1Thess.2:2,9, and of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Cor.2:12; 9:13 !! Men are turning it into a message of law, curses and superstition.
From all these scriptures we can see that the message of the Gospel is a declaration of God’s abundant grace and mercy to all mankind, given to them before the foundation of the world (2 Tim.1:9), and confirmed and made freely available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son. Hence they are also glad tidings! This is the message. This is the emphasis. As we have opportunity, we are to proclaim this to all mankind – that they should repent and believe on Christ who has redeemed them from sin and judgement; and not to believe is the great, self-condemning sin, for which they will be judged indeed.
Now, it may be said that this is all very clear already. But it is this truth, this Gospel, that is being perverted (Gal.1:7) and obscured by this and other modern teachings. They bring messages about curses and judgements. They lay false burdens on people. They lead people into an unhealthy, unbiblical, deliberate and unending investigation into, and discovery of, the sins and evil in their communities, cities and nations. They advertise these in their prayer letters and periodicals and feel they are really making progress when they discover occult and witchcraft practices, which they then proceed to describe and illustrate in great – and totally unedifying – detail in their literature. They preoccupy the hearts and minds of the saints with these things and then want to engage our hearts as well, by urging us to repent and pray about these matters as if it was our sin, and apply Christ’s blood to these situations to bring about reconciliation, so that God’s curse and judgement might be removed. All this is much more to do with superstition than with the Gospel! It is baptizing people into a fantasy of religious ideas that takes them away from the truth as it is in Christ.
It very much seems that there are groups today that are always looking for ‘new’ ways of making the Gospel spread more successfully. But their over-great desire for ‘success’ and ‘effectiveness’, together with a readiness to easily accept (their own) supernatural experiences – whether of giftings so-called or of different kinds of visions – has rendered them susceptible to deceiving spirits. They then concentrate on the few scriptures that would seem to support their theories but very much ignore the whole testimony of scripture and so present us with something that is different to the Gospel. However, this Gospel is not according to man (Gal.1:16). Man did not invent it and man cannot change it. Nor can he add to it or discover some new aspect of it. It is God’s Gospel and it is everlasting!
Although those who believe in these modern doctrines spend much money, time and energy in promoting their ideas and in trying to show how successful these new strategies have been in the world, the proof is neither truly demonstrable nor conclusive. On the contrary – and this is why this article is being written – in some countries these modern teachings are causing confusion and havoc without turning the tide of evil in any way at all, and in many other places they are producing no benefit but to distract the saints from their true calling. They are taking the place of Gospel preaching, both in public preaching to unbelievers and to the saints in churches. The result is that the minds of both sinners and saints are being filled with thoughts of legal covenants, judgements and curses, which is leading them into superstitious and vain repentance and deceiving emotions. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is being substituted!
I do not believe people are doing this deliberately. Nor am I saying that these teachers are not the Lord’s people. Paul wrote to the Lord’s people in the Galatian and Corinthian churches. They believed in the basic things that we all believe in concerning Christ and His blood. But they then received other, additional teachings (Galatia), or concentrated too much on outward things with a very fleshly desire for power, position and glory (Corinth). Paul, writing out of genuine concern for them and out of faithfulness to God and His truth, warns them that they are on the verge of departing from the true faith, where Christ will be of no use to them, (Gal.3:4; 4:11,20, 5:4). He warns the Christians at Corinth that through their carnal behaviour and glorying, they are close to being deceived by the devil into accepting another Jesus, another spirit and another gospel – for even Satan is transformed into an angel of light and his servants masquerade as the ministers of righteousness – and by these the Corinthians were on the verge of being deceived! 2Cor.11:1-20.
If these things could be so in the early church, it should be no shock to us if they happen today – though it may grieve us greatly. And these things are happening today! People are on the verge of receiving another Gospel, another Jesus and another spirit – if they haven’t already! And this little article, however imperfect, is a cry for a return to the simplicity that is in Christ and to the declaration of the eternal, unchangeable Gospel of God, which is His power unto salvation that He freely offers to mankind!
Let us remind ourselves what this teaching says, so that no one misunderstands what we are saying here. This teaching tells Christians that they ought to confess and/or repent for the sins of the sinners around them – in their town, area or country – and even to confess that they have sinned against God because of these sins. They are to do this to obtain God’s forgiveness and to make reconciliation for the land. In other words, the church is to repent for the sins of the world and even confess these sins as their own in order to gain God’s forgiveness! Otherwise God’s judgement or curse will remain on the land. (These teachings may vary slightly from country to country) . Now we know that God looks upon the heart and He still hears the cry of our heart even if our thinking and words in prayer are not right. But this is no reason to allow our minds to be filled with ideas that are quite unbiblical and only help to blind us to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Nothing in the NT would lead us to think or believe any of these ideas.
Prayer in the NT
What does the NT teach concerning prayer? What examples do we find there? Let us start with the Son of God. In John 17, Jesus prays the deepest things in His heart. We can say that something of the heart of God is revealed in this prayer. If we look carefully at the prayer, we will see that Jesus does not make many requests, but one of the things He does say is this:
“ I pray not for the world, but for those you have given me…”
Have you ever heard anyone preach on this? It is an often neglected verse. But it has its own significant meaning, spoken by Christ Himself. Jesus was praying for the ones that God had given Him, His followers. He came to call sinners to repentance and He was going to die for the sins of the world. The Father so loved the world that He gave His only Son because He is not willing that any should perish. So we see God has a heart concern for all mankind. Nevertheless, Jesus wasn’t praying for the world as He prayed to His Father. He was praying for those who were God’s. This was His great concern when praying, and it remains His great concern to this day. What is Jesus Christ doing at the right hand of the Father? In Rom. 8 : 34 we are told that He is making intercession for us – the saints. And in Hebrews 7 : 25 we are told that He ever lives to make intercession for the ones that come to God by Him. This is portrayed as His continuing ministry in scripture – it’s not something He only did in John 17. But today we have teachers who tell us we should continuously be praying and repenting for the sins of the world! This truly is a contrast!
There are other scriptures, of course, which we shall look at to give us the broader picture concerning prayer; and I am not setting the verse in John 17 against other verses or trying to put one narrow interpretation on it, as though there was only one thing to pray for or only one way of praying. Not at all. But let us look at what most of the scriptures do say about this and what is their main direction and emphasis. Then we will be in a position to gain some understanding of these things, and of what is fundamental and what is not.
What then, do we know of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in prayer? What direction does He take in praying? Well, as it is with Christ Jesus so it is with the Holy Spirit. We read in Rom. 8 : 26,27 that the Spirit makes intercession for us, with groanings that cannot be uttered. Paul continues to tell us that the Spirit makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Whatever else may also be true, the scriptures reveal that the main ministry of the Son and of the Spirit in prayer, is for the saints.
What about the saints themselves? What should they be praying for? Firstly and chiefly, according to most of the scriptures we find on this subject, the saints are praying, and should be praying, for one another, even as the Son and the Spirit are doing, as we saw above. In Eph. 6 : 10-18, we are told to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might because our conflict is not with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers, etc. In other words, the enemy is not a fleshly one but a spiritual one. This being so, what does the apostle tell us to do? Does he tell us that we should therefore pray against these principalities and powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world and against spiritual wickedness in high places, and to bind them? No, this is not his advice. Not at all! He doesn’t teach that here nor anywhere else in his letters to the saints. Nor do Peter, James and John instruct Christians to do this. Because the enemy is a spiritual power, Paul instructs believers to put on the whole armour of God – that is, they need to live and walk spiritually, having spiritual armour. This passage teaches us that because our enemy is spiritual, our walk, our daily living should be spiritual, so that we can stand against all the strategies of the devil and demons who want to tempt us away from complete trust and faith in God and to plant doubt, discouragement, lies and wrong desires in our hearts. We are to live in the obedience of faith and love towards our God, rejecting from our hearts and minds the lies of the enemy. This is spiritual warfare. This is walking and living spiritually. So now, being clothed with spiritual armour Paul instructs us to pray in verse 18. Against what? Against principalities and powers, etc.? No! He tells us that we should “pray with all prayer and supplication….for all saints”. Standing in our armour, i.e. living and walking spiritually, we are able to pray properly and effectively for one another. In our own personal walk before God we are to resist the devil’s temptations to doubt God or be led away from Him, and it is such a walk that enables us to pray effectively for the saints. This is his teaching. Men lead us astray by teaching other things, wanting us to concentrate on praying against principalities and powers, when this is not Paul’s meaning at all here. For Paul this is a very important matter. He instructs us not just to pray for all the saints, but to “watch thereunto with all perseverance and supplication”. In other words, when we pray for one another we are to continually be alert to, and aware of, the needs of the saints and the effect of our prayers for them. (Other people would have us be continually aware of, and alert to, every kind of evil, sin and witchcraft practice that is going on around us). For further exposition on Ephesians 6 : 10-18, please see the third article.
What does Paul himself do? How does he pray? He is mostly praying for the saints – continually; praying that they might grow and increase in the love and knowledge of God, and discover the fullness of their inheritance and salvation in Christ. Nearly all his prayers in the NT are of this nature. So he tells the Phillippians that he remembers them every time he prays and in writing to them tells them of his prayer to God that their love might abound more and more (Philipp. 1:4,9). This is his common testimony with regard to his praying, as we can see from the following verses: Rom. 1:9; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:16-20, 3:14-19; Col. 1:3, 9-11; 2:2,3; 1Thess. 1: 2,3; 3:10; 2Thess. 1:3,11-12; 2Tim. 1:3; Philemon 1:4. Epaphras prays in the same way, Col. 4:12. So we see clearly that most of the examples and references to prayer in the NT letters are to do with praying for the saints – their growth in Christ – and for the ministry of the church to others. There are others that are general exhortations to pray, such as Col. 4:2 and 1Thess. 5:17. Others make reference to specific things to pray for and we shall look at those more closely. But again we recognize that there isn’t one scripture that exhorts us to confess or repent for the sins of unbelievers in prayer.
This now brings us to a further thing that Christ prayed to the Father in John 17 : 20 ;
“…neither pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on me through their word…”
So Jesus continues to pray not just for the disciples but for those who will believe through their word. He is praying for those who will later be added to the Church. So Christ expects others to be saved through the ministry of His servants. To this end He exhorts them to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out labourers, and of course, He Himself commissions them to preach the Gospel to every creature (Lk. 24 : 46,47; Mk. 16 : 15,16). And when difficulties arise, we find the church praying, not against principalities and powers, nor repenting for the hardness of heart of those in their city, but according to Christ’s example in Jn.17, they are praying the Lord would give them boldness to speak His word and that the Lord would work wonders among the people (Acts 4 : 29,30).
In Rom. 15:30-32, Paul asks the Roman Christians to join in prayer with him for the work of the ministry and that he may be delivered from unbelievers in Judea. There is no mention of repenting for the sins of those who oppose the Gospel. Notice also very clearly that neither here, nor anywhere else in his letter to the Romans (incl. Chpts. 9-11) does Paul even indicate that the Christians in Rome should repent for sins of Rome and its Empire, which had conquered and occupied the land of Israel and were now ruling over it! In this letter he had the supreme opportunity of telling them that Rome had sinned against the people of Israel and that it was their spiritual duty, as Roman citizens, to identify with the sins of their country and repent for these sins against Israel. After all, he certainly knows, as well as anyone, the OT scriptures concerning repentance and the importance of Israel. But he doesn’t exhort them to do this at all! This kind of teaching is completely absent from his writings as it is from the whole of the NT. Paul didn’t tell them to do this, because it would have been a delusion to do so. He warns them very clearly not to be high-minded against the Jews (chpt. 11), but he doesn’t ask them to repent for other peoples’ sins. Now if the apostles didn’t teach this, where do these present-day teachers get their authority and revelation from? Sadly, not from God.
Paul writes in the same vein when writing to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 1:11), asking them to pray for him and those with him. In Eph. 6 we have already noted that Paul exhorts them to pray for the saints and then in v.19 (following the pattern or heart of Jesus in Jn.17) he asks them to pray that utterance may be given to him…to make known the mystery of the Gospel. He asks other churches to pray similarly, i.e., for him and the ministry of the word, Philippians 1 : 18,19; Col. 4 : 2,3; 1Thess. 5 : 25; 2Thess. 3 : 1. Please do not think that we are only looking at a few specially chosen verses. This study includes nearly all the exhortations to prayer in the NT. All references to “repentance” have nothing to do with believers repenting for national or city sins. He also tells the Philippians that they should do all things without murmurings and disputings. Why? So that they may be, “blameless and harmless, the sons of God….in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life”. It is important to Paul that they should declare Christ both through their conduct and through their testimony. All this is consistent with the prayer of Jesus in Jn.17, where He prays that they might be sanctified through the truth, sent into the world, and that others might believe through their word, v. 17-20 – and that they all might be one.
As I mentioned before, there are other verses that instruct us further in how we should pray. In 1Tim.2:1-4, we are exhorted to pray for all men, and Paul specifically mentions those in authority and he also states the purpose of these prayers, supplications and intercessions; namely, that we should have such social conditions which would allow us to live godly lives in peace. Verses 3 and 4 indicate that we are to pray in this way because it will also facilitate the spread of the Gospel to men and women.
So we are to pray for those in government and in authority, that we might have such people who will promote honesty, righteousness and peaceful conditions, which are also more helpful in enabling the Gospel to reach men’s hearts than conditions of gross unrighteousness, riot or war.(Though of course we know from the book of Acts, that the Gospel is able to spread even under conditions of persecution.) In this respect, it is worth mentioning Rom.13:1-7 and Titus 3:1,2, where we are exhorted to be subject to those in authority and to show them the respect that is due to them. Though the context may be slightly different, nevertheless the verses from 2 Peter2:10-12 have some relevance here also, in that both these passages exhort and warn us not to rebuke and rail at those in authority. In other words, do not think you can come like some OT prophet denouncing, criticising and pronouncing your judgements upon those in authority just because you can see their sins clearly. There is no NT example or teaching that would lead us to behave or speak like that. Study the book of the Acts for yourself. There was just as much evil and oppression in society in those days, but how did the saints behave? By all means let us preach the Gospel but beware of those who confuse social reform with the Gospel. The main ministry of the Church to the world is to do with bringing about an inward spiritual change in men and women – from death to Life and from sin to righteousness. If you over-emphasize social reform, people will misunderstand what the Gospel is really about. Obviously, we can choose to use our democratic rights, if we have them, for social reform, according to our conscience and faith. But the preaching and the presentation of the Gospel in these days of grace is, and should be, different from the manner in which OT prophets came and spoke God’s word. There are some today who confuse these things and want to draw us back into OT ways of thinking and behaving, but which have been done away with in Christ (Heb.1:1,2). I’m not saying that we can’t tell people about judgement to come, but what I am saying is that no one can compel us to do anything that is not commanded us in scripture. For example, neither Jesus nor the apostles protested to any ruling authorities for social reform, even though there were evils in their day. Some say they didn’t do this because there was no freedom to protest in those days. But if it is a Christian obligation to campaign for change, would not the apostles have been obligated to do so, whatever the social conditions? However, more importantly than this, there isn’t any instruction from the Lord Jesus nor from the apostles in their writings (for any future generations who may have more liberty to protest) to the effect that we should campaign for social reform or criticise those in authority. I am not saying Christians can’t do this if the opportunity is there, but what I am saying is that no one has any right or authority from the NT to say that Christians ought to be involved in politics in this way. Let each be persuaded in their own conscience and act accordingly without compelling or judging one another! Obviously, in more extreme cases where unjust or evil people in authority would compel us to act contrary to the will of God, there we must make a stand. In any event, our main aim should be to see men and women being born into God’s Kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy, which history also shows has much greater effect in changing society, than any social campaign has – though this too can reap benefit.
Lastly, let us look at Paul’s statement in Romans 9:1-3 and 10:1. Here he clearly expresses his heart desire that Israel might be saved and that he has continual sorrow because of the hardness of his brethren according to the flesh, against the Gospel. And his grief is all the greater because to them pertain the adoption and the glory and the covenants, v.4, (and for this reason his bond and grief would generally be greater than what a citizen of another country might feel for his countrymen, to whom the adoption and covenants did not apply initially as it did to the Jews).
However, that others should be saved is clearly something that is on our hearts, even as it is an expression of God’s own will; particularly praying for those close to us in some way, whether family or community. But please note that nowhere does Paul indicate that he is repenting for their hardness against the Gospel, though he is grieved because of it. His prayer is that they might be saved! Again please note that Paul would have an excellent opportunity here of exhorting the believers in Rome to repent of the sins of their great city and its leaders, whose forces were occupying the land of Israel and all that part of the world. But there is not a hint of this teaching here nor anywhere else in the NT. It is one thing to pray for Jewish people to be saved, for which the Bible gives us ample reason, but it is quite something else to tell the Lord’s people today that they ought to support the political state of Israel. There is no verse in the NT that exhorts us to do this. I am aware of the many scriptures in the OT concerning Israel, but the only thing God Himself was interested in, was Israel’s relationship to Him – that they should be a holy people serving Him only. When they failed in this, even God had no respect for their national integrity – when other prophets were prophesying in Jeremiah’s day that Israel would have peace and not see war, Jeremiah spoke God’s words to them, namely, that their nation would be destroyed and that they would be scattered and taken away captive (but later some would return according to His great mercy). Even in those days God wasn’t supporting just some outward political state when their hearts were far from Him. It is no different today. But again, some people today utterly confuse their understanding of the OT with the NT. They also do not perceive how Calvary has changed things in relation to these matters, but would have the Lord’s people today praying and acting to support the carnal outward political state of Israel which doesn’t even recognize God. It is a secular state. There are even orthodox Jews in Israel who refuse to recognize the political state of Israel for this very reason. They believe that as God has returned them to their land even so He will establish them when they put their trust in Him and not in other countries. Again I say, it is one thing (commendable) to pray that Jewish people might put their trust in Christ as their saviour, but it is just leading God’s people astray to tell them they must show support for the political state of Israel. Was not Jehoshaphat rebuked by God’s prophet for this very reason, namely, for supporting his brethren Israel when they, through Ahab, had turned their backs on God. 2 Chron. 18:3 and 19:2. Loyalty, according to the flesh, actually opposes the purposes of God! I’m not involving myself in the debate concerning the Church and Israel. The only point I’m making is simply this, that the idea that we ought to support the outward or political state of Israel is not taught by Jesus nor the apostles. In terms of the Gospel, of course we can pray for the Jewish people, but if you go as far as supporting the political state of Israel, be careful that you’re not supporting something that refuses to recognise God and to submit to His truth and grace. Please go as far as the scriptures instruct, but do not go beyond, and certainly do not compel the Lord’s people to do such things as the Lord Himself didn’t do nor instruct His followers to do. Also remember to make the distinction that he is a Jew who is one inwardly, not who is one outwardly, (Rom. 2:28,29), lest you confuse flesh with Spirit, and the OT with the NT.
Some Final Considerations
Lastly, let us look at how this teaching truly exalts the OT law over NT grace and seeks to bring us into bondage to ideas that oppose the Gospel.
Perhaps realizing that their idea of ‘generational sins’ and repenting for them is not taught in the NT, one scholar attempts to justify this teaching in the most extraordinary way. He says that it should be clear that we are saved, not by keeping the OT covenantal law but by faith in Christ and in the atonement of His blood for our sins. But he goes on to say, that this does not mean that the deeper principles of God’s character which are mentioned in Ex. 34:5-7, or the deeper principles of the Ten Commandments mentioned in Ex. 20:3-17 and Deut. 5:7-21 are nullified by faith in Christ. He says that Paul shows us this clearly in Rom. 3:31 – where Paul says we do not abolish the law but establish it through faith in Christ. And so the writer concludes that New Testament faith fulfils or establishes the deeper principles of the OT law, according to Rom.8:4; 13:8! And what ‘deeper principle’ of God’s Law is he referring to, that is carried over into the NT? Well, it’s the need to confess the ‘generational sins’ in society, so that God’s judgement can be removed!
Firstly, in his article, although he quotes those 3 OT portions of scripture, the writer is only concerned about establishing the idea of “generational sin”, so he only refers to one verse in each passage. He does not mention the other positive or glorious aspects of God’s nature and mercy when he refers to those passages. He does not illustrate to us the nature of God’s grace and mercy in the OT and he certainly doesn’t expound the depth and extent of God’s grace and salvation to us through Christ. These are put aside as he magnifies law and judgement and his own understanding of the OT over against the revelation of what God has done in Christ. So what he wants to tell us is that from Rom. 3:31 and 8:4, faith in Christ establishes the truth of ‘generational’ or ‘corporate’ sin! He says NT faith establishes the law, and that ‘generational sin’ is mentioned in the law, therefore generational sin is part of NT truth! That is his reasoning! Well, circumcision is part of the law, and if NT faith establishes the law in the way he says, then should we all become circumcised?! Can you imagine that Paul had this in mind when writing those verses in Romans? If so, why is this teaching not indicated anywhere in his writings?
Secondly, have you ever heard of the deeper principles of OT law, or the deeper principles of God’s character in the OT as compared to the NT? What does this mean? Dear reader, I invite you to read the Ten Commandments in Ex.20 and then read Matthew chapters 5-7! What do you think? Which passage gives us a deeper, greater, higher and altogether more glorious reflection of God’s character and law (if we can use the word “law” here – for truly what Jesus is describing in this portion in Matthew is a reflection of the very life of God in a person, not what a person accomplishes through his efforts to keep a law. This is why it says that “the law came through Moses but truth and grace came through Jesus Christ”.). Jesus said, “he that has seen me has seen the Father”. What was revealed in part or in type and mostly outwardly in the OT, this has now been revealed in a far more glorious and fuller way in and through Christ, who brings this glory and fullness into us by the Spirit. Truly we have every reason to thank God and to magnify His Gospel of Grace and Truth!
Look at 2Cor. 3:6-18; 4:6; Col. 1:27; 1 Peter 1:10-12; Heb. 1:1-3; 7:18,19; 10:1. How can they say that the OT contains deeper aspects of God’s character than the New? God does not change, and there is no contradiction between the Old and New Testaments. God’s love, compassion and longsuffering, as well as His righteousness and holiness are clearly manifest in the OT, and indeed these do not change. But through Christ, the glory of His nature, the grace of His eternal purpose for us and the depth of His salvation are revealed in an altogether deeper and more glorious manner in the NT. Paul tells us that the glory of the New Covenant is so much greater than that of the Old, that it’s as if the Old has no glory in comparison!
If the above writer were just pointing out that no aspect of God’s own righteousness or the requirements of His righteousness are annulled through NT faith, then this is NT teaching itself, as we shall shortly see. But this does nothing to prove his point and what he is doing is making an altogether different point that leads him into totally erroneous thinking. The writer believes he can find his own teaching about ‘generational sin’ in the OT Law. Then he wants to give this teaching an enduring quality by declaring that this aspect of the Law is a part of God’s unchanging nature and so finds its fulfilment in the NT! What reasoning is this? Neither the keeping of the Jewish Passover, nor outward circumcision, nor this invention that God’s people need to confess (and repent for?) the sins of the world, are a part of God’s eternal Character or of His enduring righteous requirements!
As I mentioned, he quotes Rom.8:4 in order to prove that the idea of ‘generational sin’, which he says is contained in the OT Law, is fulfilled or established in the NT. Perhaps nothing shows more clearly how they not only do not understand the New Covenant, but also rob it of its power and true meaning through their confused teaching. Romans 8 contains some of the most glorious verses in the NT, including vv. 1-4. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are now set free from the law of sin and death – for the first time in human history since Adam! The giving of the law could not do this. It could not make us righteous. It could only confirm to us that we are completely unrighteous and in bondage to sin, and therefore unable to enter into God’s presence, (Rom. 3:10,12,19,20; 7:7-11; Gal.3:19; Heb.9:8) and in need of salvation. The only way to give us Life, Eternal Life, was to make us righteous. There is no real difference between Life, as it is in God, and Righteousness. Gal.3:21, Rom.5:21. So, as through Adam many were made sinners, so by the obedience of Christ many shall be made righteous, for God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21. This is the power and glory of the Good News!
What part of the OT Law did God want fulfilled in us? Not the ceremonial part! Nothing to do with new moons and circumcision! Nothing to do with fulfilling judgements and curses – except that they fell on His own Son! It was the righteousness of the Law – that which reflected His own Holy Being and Righteousness. That is what He has from eternity wanted to produce in us, namely, His own righteous, glorious Life! It was the only way He could give us Eternal Life – to make us His sons according to His nature. What a Gospel! What Grace! What Love! Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God! 1 John 3:1, and also see Gal. 3:21; Eph. 1:4,5; Rom. 8:15-17,29; 2 Cor. 4:10,11; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 12:10; 1 Peter 1:15,16; 2 Peter 1:3,4; 1 John 4:17.
It is the righteousness of the law that is to be fulfilled in us through faith in Christ. This, dear reader, this is what Rom. 8:4 is referring to! What the Law could not do; what the blood of bulls and goats could not do; what the best efforts of the best men could not do, God has done in the person of His Son. The Lamb of God has taken away our sin, judging it in His own body and so also destroying its power and its condemnation over us – so that the righteousness which is required by the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. This means that His Life is to be manifest in us; His righteousness, His grace, His love, patience and longsuffering. This is what Romans 8 is all about, namely, His life in us! How can they take such a glorious verse and misuse it for the sake of their own fantasies? No, they do it not deliberately, and yet they are responsible for ignoring and opposing what the scriptures clearly declare, as they do with the teachings which we have considered in this article. There is nothing deeper than Calvary; there is nothing greater than Calvary in all the events of history and in the revelations of God to mankind – it expresses everything; it has achieved everything!
Their interpretation of these verses in Romans – together with their other expositions – show clearly how they concentrate on OT scriptures, develop them and magnify them over against the NT. They proclaim OT verses in a way that belittles and destroys NT truth – exactly as happened in the Galatian churches. This is the same kind of error and deception – an enchantment. Even though they acknowledge the other truths about Jesus as did the false teachers in Galatia, nevertheless their additions to the truth were actually nullifying the truth.
This is why this article has been written. People that I know have been troubled, confused or at least hesitant about this new teaching, and I was asked to put something in writing to explain these things from scripture. I trust I have done this sufficiently to show that this new teaching has no place in the New Testament nor in the Bible as a whole and that it should have no place in our hearts.
We have touched on some deep and great subjects (such as prayer, intercession and salvation) in this article, but not with the aim of giving a comprehensive and deep study on each one of them. The purpose of this article is only to look at the basic scriptures which relate to the matters concerning confession, prayer and repentance, and to show that they say something quite different to these modern ideas. There would be more to say on these subjects, of course, and I have not addressed every single point that these modern teachers make – that would have made this article even longer than it already is but without adding much more to the basic points, which I trust I have covered.
Dear reader, may I leave you with a verse from Gal. 5:1
“Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free and be not entangled in the yoke of bondage again.”
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you!
Copyright ã D. Stamen 2001