Confess I Am A Sinner?

by Bob Liichow

One aspect of the worship service, which is common in both Presbyterian and LCMS churches, is a corporate confession of sin. On "Reformation Sunday" before the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, at Ascension Lutheran we all acknowledged our intentional and unintentional sins before a holy God. Then after a few moments of reflection, the pastor stood before us and announced the good news that because of the merits of Jesus Christ and His merits alone our sins were forgiven!

Personally, I find this confession refreshing and restorative. There is something about acknowledging my sinfulness and then hearing "te absolvo" or I forgive you your sins. Such an honest declaration increases my gratitude towards a merciful God. Perhaps I find this personally beneficial because for many years to make such a declaration was anathema within the Word of Faith religion.

For years it was drummed into my head by Copeland and other teachers the concept of; "I used to be a sinner and I was saved by grace, but I am not a sinner any longer." To confess that one was a sinner, according to their theology, was to deny being righteous in Christ. To them one could not be both a sinner and just at the same time. We used to be sinners, but now we have become the very righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). To confess ones sins was to develop a "sin consciousness" versus a "righteousness consciousness." We would readily confess all the blessings but refused to acknowledge that we were yet sinful people who every breath was dependent upon the mercy of God. Part of this refusal to admit our sins was because we believed our spoken words created our reality. So to confess one's sins was in some way to give them additional reality (as though the sin (s) were not real enough when they were committed).

This denial of inherent sinfulness also stems from their wrong view of what transpired on the cross, what they often refer to as "the great exchange," or "what happened from the cross to the throne" (a famous teaching of Mr. Copeland's). Much of this teaching can be traced back to E.W. Kenyon who is the fountainhead for much of Word of Faith theology. In his book, The Bible In Light of Our Redemption, he says of Jesus --- 

Then God must take man's sin-nature, that hideous, monstrous thing spiritual death and lay it upon the spirit of His Holy Eternal Son. . .When He has paid the penalty for man, He shall be made righteous, and that righteousness will become man's. (Underlining added for emphasis).1 

He not only bore our sins, but the sin-nature itself was laid upon Him, until He became all that spiritual death had made man.2 

Jesus Christ, when man's penalty had been paid, had to be born of God and pass from death into life just as man, because He has become identified with our Spiritual Death. After Christ had been justified in spirit and born of God, He conquered Satan as a man. It is evident that Satan tried to hold Christ within his authority. Satan did hold Christ until God could declare man righteous.3 

According to Kenyon and subsequently WOF teachers, Jesus did not bear the penalty for our sins, He actually became a sinner, a lost man, a man in need of redemption. All that belonged to Jesus was actually given to anyone who would believe in Him and all that Adam had lost in the fall was actually placed upon Jesus. Kenneth Hagin, who stole massively from Mr. Kenyon, goes as far as to deny that righteousness is imputed to us! The great exchange goes something like this:

The Great Exchange

Jesus was made sin

We were made His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21)

Jesus bore our sickness & diseases

We receive His divine health & healing (2 Pet. 2:24)

Jesus was rich but became poor

We receive His heavenly wealth (2 Cor. 8:9)

But we don't have righteousness merely imputed to us. No, we have a better covenant established on better promises, we've been made the righteousness of God in Christ (Heb. 8:6; 2 Cor. 5:21). Well, if the blood of Jesus has made us righteous, we ought to take advantage of it. Knowing and taking advantage of that righteousness will be the catalyst for releasing our faith and causing our prayers to work.4

Kenyon and the WOF religion have no concept of what happened on the cross. Their doctrine of the atonement is a blasphemous heresy. If you think I am being too passionate in my condemnation, please remember that these folks teach: (1) that Jesus became a sinner; (2) paid for our sins in hell, not on the cross; (3) Jesus had to be born-again and that He defeated Satan as a born-again man and not as God. Friends, these beliefs are nothing less than damnable lies. None of what they teach regarding the atonement is true at all and it has never been an accepted part of Christian orthodoxy at any point.

Jesus bore the penalty of our sins on the cross, but He did not become a sinner. God poured out on Him the judgment that we deserved. A line from an old gospel song states it very simply "I owed a debt I could not pay, He paid at price He did not owe." Kim Riddlebarger explains it this way:

When John speaks of the death of Christ as a "propitiation [hilasmos] for our sins" (1 Jn 2:2; 4:10), the meaning is clear. Christ's death on the cross turns aside God's wrath that otherwise would be directed toward us in the judgment because of our sins. Christ accomplishes this for us through his offering up of himself as the sacrifice on whom God has poured out his anger. Christ shed his blood then, in part, to appease the Holy God's anger toward our sins. The same idea is in view in Romans 3:25. Paul says that "God presented his Son as a propitiation [hilasterion]," to demonstrate his justice--he will indeed forgive sin only because he punishes it in Christ--and so that he can justify those who have faith in his Son. Since God cannot simply overlook sin but must punish it, Christ must stand in the sinner's stead. The guilt of the sinner's sin has been dealt with in that Christ's shed blood turns aside the wrath of God toward the sinner, thereby removing that guilt from him or her. In this sense, the concept of propitiation is foundational to understanding not only the substitutionary aspect of the atonement, but also forensic justification as well. The reason that sinners can be justified at all is that the guilt for their own sins has been imputed to Christ, so that Christ in turn can turn aside God's wrath toward sinners by being punished for the sinner in the sinner's place (Phil 3:9). Perhaps James Denny put it best when he said, "the simplest word of faith is the deepest word of theology: Christ died for our sins. Bold typed added for emphasis.5 

Our sins were imputed to Christ and His righteousness was imputed to us. The Reformers often referred to this righteousness as an "alien righteousness," righteousness apart from all human works or merit. We are righteous in Christ and by His merit alone. 

Sola fide affirms that we are justified on the basis of Christ's righteousness for us, which is accomplished by Christ's own perfect active obedience apart from us, not on the basis of Christ's righteousness in us. Thus, the good news of the Gospel is that we do not have to wait for righteousness to be accomplished in us before God counts us justified in his sight. He declares us to be just on the basis of Christ's imputed righteousness.6 

Word of Faith doctrine views the righteousness of Christ as something that is not so much imputed to the believer but rather, it is something that is imparted to our spirits. Thus they view themselves as now righteous beings and not sinful beings who undeservedly have been granted to share in the righteousness of the Son of God.

Our righteousness before a holy God is outside of us, it is not the result of an inner change of heart: "The reformers did not believe that this justification was an empirical change in the human heart; rather, it was external."7 Our right standing with God is based completely on Jesus Christ, He is the righteous one and we are now in Him, by virtue of faith. This faith is as much a gift as is the righteousness we now enjoy in our Lord (see Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 5:17).

When I confess my sins before God in the midst of my brothers and sisters I am reminded of the statement coined by Dr. Luther to us --- "simil justus et peccator" meaning, at the same time I am justified and yet a sinner. A reality our Word of Faith friends need to embrace. Every time I acknowledge my sins I am reminded of the free and full pardon I have in my Savior and how truly gracious is the nature of His love towards me. 

End Notes 

1. Kenyon, E.W. The Bible In Light of Our Redemption, Fleming Revell, 1969, page 46.

2. Ibid., page 165.

3. Ibid., page 167.

4. Kenneth Hagin, The Word of Faith, November 1996, page 17.

5. Kim Riddlebarger, No Ordinary Death Jesus Christ, The Propitiation For Our Sins.

6. The Alliance Response to the Second ECT Document, "The Gift of Salvation" obtained from on 11-02-01.

7. Rod Rosenbladt, Reclaiming the Doctrine of Justification, obtained from on 11-05-01.

Bob Liichow is the co-founder of Inner-City Christian Discernment Ministry

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