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God Sees No Sin in His People
by Don Fortner

Balaam is one of the most puzzling characters in the Bible. We know that he was a self-serving false prophet (Jude 11; Revelation 2.14). But, at times, he appears to have been a man of character. He led Israel to mingle the worship of idols with the worship of God (Numbers 25.1; 31.16), persuading them to compromise the truth and glory of God in the name of unity and peace with those who were the enemies of God. Yet, at times, he seems to be a man of truthfulness, committed to the truth of God, who could not be bought off or bribed, not even by the power and money of Balak, the king of Moab.

One of the great problems in recognizing false prophets is the fact that sometimes they appear to be men of integrity, principle, and character. Sometimes they seem to be self-denying, rather than self-serving, men. Sometimes they speak the truth, fight for it, and even put themselves at great risk in defending certain aspects of truth. Many who vehemently oppose the gospel of God's free and sovereign grace in Christ zealously contend for 'the Book, the blood, and the blessed hope'. Many who deny the efficacy of Christ's blood will put themselves in great hazard defending His deity and virgin birth. False prophets are wolves in sheep's clothing.

Balaam was just such a man. He was like the man Bunyan called Mr Face-Both-Ways. He represents those men who appear to have a great deal of Bible knowledge and spiritual discernment, but in reality have no spiritual understanding at all. They appear to serve God, but really serve themselves. They know much truth, but do not know Him who is the Truth. They have big heads, but cold, empty hearts. And they shall at last perish with the wicked because they are the most wicked of men.

Yet, our great and glorious God uses even reprobate false prophets like Balaam to accomplish His purpose. He is an absolute sovereign. Even false prophets serve Him, though they fight against Him. He who caused an ass to speak to a man can easily cause that man to speak for Him and speak His truth. In Balaam's parables, we see a false prophet vindicating the faithfulness of God and declaring the truth of God, though he knew not God or His truth.

This should not surprise us at all. God did the same thing with Caiaphas the high priest. Though he knew nothing at all about what he was saying, he prophesied of the death of Christ and described the substitutionary character of His sin-atoning sacrifice as clearly as any inspired apostle (John 11.47-59).

I have said all that because I want you to understand that our God is in control of things, even of false prophets. While we despise what they are doing, we must not fret about them. Wicked men they are, and must be denounced as such; but they are nonetheless serving God's purpose. He may even, now and then, cause one to proclaim the truth clearly, as He did Balaam and Caiaphas.

In fact, one of the most wondrous, glorious aspects of gospel truth to be found in Holy Scripture fell from the mouth of Balaam. False prophet that he was, he nevertheless spoke by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit in Numbers 23.21. There, speaking of God Almighty, he said, 'He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.'

These words do not suggest that there was no sin or perverseness in Israel. There was an abundance of perverseness among them. But the Lord God did not mark the sins of His people against them, He did not impute sin to His chosen, He did not look upon their sins with the eye of His justice; but hid His face from them and forgave them. And that which God did for His elect among the children of Israel, He has done for His elect in Christ, His true Israel, 'the Israel of God'.

Hence the title of this article; God sees no sin in His people. Though there is much sin in us and done by us, as every true believer readily admits and confesses (1 John 1.8, 10), yet God sees no sin in His people. The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to destroy, purge, remove, and take away the sins of His people; and He has done it (John 1.29; Hebrews 1.3; 9.26; 1 John 3.5). All the sins of God's elect were laid upon Christ, He bore them in His own body on the tree, endured and satisfied the wrath of God for them, and carried them away. The Son of God redeemed us from the curse of the law, made an end of our sins, and justified and sanctified us by His blood. God Almighty has, through the effectual atonement of Christ, so thoroughly blotted out our sins that He does not behold them. He has cast our sins into the depths of the sea. He has cast our sins behind His back. He has removed them from us as far as the east is from the west, and remembers them no more.

I am fully aware that the doctrine found in this text of scripture is commonly rejected and despised by men. It has been described as 'a freak doctrine of perverted minds that leads to licentiousness and sin'. The first time I preached this doctrine, nearly twenty-four years ago, I was publicly denounced for doing so and accused of being an antinomian, a promoter of licentious and evil doctrine. The accusation has been hurled by many since then. Why? I simply do not know. I cannot imagine anyone, who has tasted the bitterness of his own depravity and sin, then experienced the blessed forgiveness of sin by the grace of God through the blood of Christ, objecting to the fact that God 'hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel'. I hope that all who read this article will experience the blessedness of this complete, full, total forgiveness of sin in Christ. The fact that God sees no sin in His people, is a most glorious, comforting doctrine of the gospel, 'without which', John Gill appropriately declared, 'the gospel must cease to be good news and glad tidings to the sons of men'.

Because we must be crystal clear as to what this verse teaches I want to show you what the Scriptures do not mean as well as what they do mean, when we are told that 'He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.' Firstly:

We are not sinless

1. When the Word of God asserts that God sees no sin in His people, the teaching is not that there is no sin in believers.

Those who deduce from such passages as our text that the Bible teaches the doctrine of sinless perfection, or even the possibility of sinless perfection in this life, are simply dishonest men who do not know God and refuse to acknowledge the truth about themselves. To make such a statement as that is neither harsh nor judgmental. It is simply telling the truth.

The fact is, God's people in this world are sinners still. To say otherwise is to speak in direct contradiction to the Word of God and the constant experience of God's elect in this world. I do not have to convince you of this fact. It is painfully obvious to all who know the Lord. There is in every believer's heart a continual warfare between flesh and spirit (1 John 1.8-10; Romans 7.17, 20; Galatians 5.17).

Without question, God's saints do not live in sin and are no longer under the dominion of sin. But sin still lives in us. There is in every regenerate person two opposing natures, the one flesh and the other spirit, the one is a principle of nature and the other a principle of grace. It is our responsibility to mortify the outward actions of sin, but we cannot rid ourselves of sin. We are to 'put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts' (Ephesians 4.22). Yet, the old man never improves. The old man is never renewed. The old man is not removed. The old man does not die until this body of flesh dies. 'That which is born of flesh is flesh'!

The old man no longer reigns; but he will never surrender. Therefore, we are constantly at war with ourselves. Sin does not crop up in us now and then, in unguarded moments. Oh, no. Sin dwells in us. Paul says, 'Sin dwelleth in me!' It dwells within us, not as an idle old resident, but as an active corruption defiling all that we are and all that we do. Sin dwells in us, like an enemy who has entered the very heart of the city of Mansoul and seeks to rapidly destroy everything. Though this horrid enemy does not rule the believer's life, he does at times bring us into captivity. Though he cannot destroy us, he constantly disturbs us.Tell me, you who are born of God, is it not so with you?

2. Not only does sin dwell in us, not only is it true that we are sinners and that sin mars everything we do, we all commit sin constantly.

'There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not' (Ecclesiastes 7.20). Certainly the apostle John declares, 'Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God' (1 John 3.9). The new man, that new nature, which is born of God, cannot sin. But, as we have already seen, the believer is a person with two natures, the old man and the new, the flesh and the spirit. Our sins, everything evil in us and everything evil done by us, are the works of the flesh. All our goodness, (if I may use such language), everything good in us and everything good done by us, is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.17-23).

There is no evil in the world, no sin committed by men, that has not been or may be committed by believers, except the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Yet, when a believer sins, he can say with the inspired apostle, 'If I do that which I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me' (Romans 7.20).

I hate to burst your bubble, but I have bad news for you. As long as you live in this world, you will never stop sinning! Even when we do good, that is as good as we are capable of doing in this world, even then we sin. 'If we say', with regard to anything we do, 'we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us' (1 John 1.10).

3. The sins that we commit are sins, just as much as the evil deeds of unbelievers are sins.

This point may seem redundant to you, but there are many who have the silly notion that the sins of a believer are just mistakes, slips, errors, or something of the kind, but not sins. Sin is the transgression of the law. When David committed adultery and murder, it was just as much sin as if any other man had done it. When he repented, he did not say, Father, forgive me, for I have made a mistake. He cried out to God for the pardon and forgiveness of his sin (Psalm 25.11; Psalm 32.5; Psalm 51.1-4).

In fact, when you and I sin, our transgressions are far more inexcusable than the sins of other people. We sin against light and knowledge. We sin against mercy, love, and grace, known and experienced in our very souls! Again, John Gill deftly points out, 'Though believers are justified from all sin by Christ's righteousness, and have all their sins pardoned through Christ's blood, yet their sins do not hereby cease to be sins. Justification from sin by Christ's righteousness, and pardon of sin through Christ's blood, free them from obligation to (the) punishment due to sin, but do not destroy the nature of sin.'

4. Moreover, it must never be forgotten that our sanctification will never be finished in this life.

While the Bible nowhere teaches the notion of progressive sanctification, (the idea that believers get to be more and more holy, until at last they are ripe for heaven!), it does teach that our sanctification in this world is a continual, on-going process. Our sanctification in Christ, positionally, is perfect and complete (Hebrews 10.10, 14; 1 Corinthians 1.30). But that sanctification which is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit is not yet perfect. The new man created in us is indeed perfect in all parts, but not in degrees. Let me show you what I mean by that. Just as Christ was a perfect human being but not a complete man the moment he was born, (Luke 2.52) so the child of God, as soon as he is born again, as soon as grace is wrought in the soul, is an entirely new creature in Christ. He has all the parts of a new creature (Galatians 5.22-23); but he has a lot of growing to do.

We have faith; but our faith is lacking much. We have love; but our love misses the mark. We have hope; but our hope lacks confidence. We have joy; but our joy is mingled with sorrow. We have peace; but our peace is easily disturbed. We are longsuffering; but our longsuffering can be very short. We have some meekness; but we are to proud for it to be seen. We have a gentleness of character; but it still has a lot of roughness about it.

The best of saints in this world are sinners still. Those who are most fully grown and mature in grace, still need to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, when the Word of God declares that God sees no sin in His people, the meaning is not that there is no sin in us.

God yet knows all things

Secondly, this declaration that God sees no sin in His people does not in anyway deny or contradict His omniscience as God.

We know that God Almighty is omniscient. He knows all people and all things. Nothing is or can be hidden from his all seeing eye. All the actions of all men, whether bad or good, are seen and known by God. He sees, not only what we do, but why we do it. He sees the secret, inward, hidden things of our hearts, the fountain from which all our evil deeds flow like an open, overflowing sewer. His omniscient eye sees all the sins of His own people as well as the sins of the reprobate. There can be no debate about the fact that the omniscient God sees everything about everyone and everything (Job 34.21-22; Psalm 11.4-5; Psalm 139.1-7; Hebrews 4.12-13).

When the Scriptures declare, 'He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel', the declaration has no reference at all to His attribute of omniscience, but rather to His justice. The meaning is simply this. Insofar as God's law and justice is concerned, He sees no sin in His people (Isaiah 43.25; Isaiah 44.22).

God knows we sin

Thirdly, the declaration that God sees no sin in His people, that in Christ we have no sin, does not mean that God does not take notice of our sins or is not displeased by them.

I rejoice to declare to every believing sinner that God will never punish you for your sins, hold you accountable at His bar for your sins, or withhold any blessing of grace or glory from you because of your sins. For Him to do so, He must violate His own justice and overturn the satisfaction of His own Son. Either Christ bore the wrath of God for us, or He did not. Either He satisfied the justice of God as our Substitute or He did not. Either He put away our sins or He did not. If He has not done this for us perfectly, completely, effectually, and permanently, then we must bear the wrath of God for our own sins, pay for our own crimes, and perish in hell. But this is certain. If the Son of God has satisfied the law, wrath, and justice of God for our sins, we shall never be punished for them. Justice will not allow it. God will not, in justice He cannot, and He declares that He shall not punish sin twice, both in Christ our Surety and in those for whom the Surety died.

But do not ever imagine that God does not take notice of or is not displeased with our sins as our heavenly Father. It is plainly written in the Scriptures that 'the thing that David had done displeased the Lord' (2 Samuel 11.27). Only a very foolish father fails to see the faults, weaknesses, and offenses of his child. Though His justice forbids and prevents His wrath, our Father's love will not allow Him to let His children live in rebellion to Him. In great mercy and lovingkindness, He chastises us for our sins, not to punish us, but to correct us (Psalm 89.30-33; Hebrews 12.5-11).

What then does it mean?

Insofar as His law and justice are concerned, God sees no sin in His people. The record books of heaven record no iniquity, no transgression, and no sin against God's elect. God will not impute sin to His saints, or require from us satisfaction because our sins were imputed to Christ, paid for by Christ, and expunged from the book of God's offended justice by our Saviour's precious blood. Read the testimony of Holy Scripture and rejoice. (Romans 4.8; Romans 8.1, 33, 34; 2 Corinthians 5.19-21).

Let us lay hold of this blessed, glorious fact. 'He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.' Rejoice in it. Give praise to God for it. And walk in the blessed comfort and assurance of it all the days of your life. The Lord Jesus Christ has, by the sacrifice of Himself, put away our sins, all of them, past, present, and future. They were imputed to Him, laid upon Him, punished in Him, and put away by Him (Isaiah 53.4-6; Daniel 9.24; Zechariah 3.9; Acts 13.38-39; Hebrews 10.11-14). 'He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.'

God the Father has, upon the ground of Christ's blood, righteousness, sacrifice, and satisfaction, freely and fully forgiven all the sins of His people.

The blood of Christ, like the blood on the mercy-seat, covers our sins, so that our sins are not visible to the eyes of God's holy justice. The blood of Christ has blotted our sins out of the ledger book of heaven, so that justice cannot see sin in us. For Christ's sake, the holy Lord God has cast our sins behind His back and into the depth of the sea, so that they are not only forgotten, but gone, insofar as His law and justice are concerned! (Jeremiah 50.20). 'He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.'

In God's esteem, you and I are, as the church and bride of Christ, the very perfection of beauty and holiness. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit look upon us in Christ, washed in His blood and robed in His righteousness as beautiful, perfect, complete, holy, unblameable, and unreproveable (Ezekiel 16.14; Song of Solomon 4.7, 9; Ephesians 5.25-27; Jude 24-25). 'He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.'

A mighty word applied

The fact that God sees no sin in His people is, to again borrow the words of John Gill, 'The glory of the Bible and the marrow of the Gospel; what most displays the riches of God's grace, the efficacy of Christ's blood, the completeness of his righteousness, and the fulness of his satisfaction. It is the foundation of all solid hopes of future happiness, what supports the life of faith, and is the ground of a believer's triumph.'

Would you have this forgiveness? What would you give to lay down this magazine knowing that God Almighty does not behold sin in you and will never charge sin to you? Would you like to lay your head upon your pillow tonight with these words ringing in your heart-'Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin?' If you are a sinner in need of such forgiveness, come now to the Son of God. Confess your sin to God, trusting Christ, and like the publican of old, go down to your house justified (1 John 1.9).

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