We enthusiastically tell the world that if they receive Jesus, all their sin will be forgiven and God will remember it no more. In fact, scripture goes further when it says if we surrender our life to Jesus, the record that would have condemned us is completely erased. Our heavenly Father can do that because of the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross. Some people even proclaim it with a bumper sticker that reads; “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.” However, if you listen to their prayers, they continue to ask for forgiveness over and over and over again. Asking forgiveness may make a person feel better but doing so is a contradiction of what they profess. Additionally, by asking for forgiveness after one has been forgiven is an act of unbelief. Most would not agree with that conclusion, but their actions confirm that it’s true. After much study and prayer, the following is what I believe about God’s forgiveness. In the spirit of Acts 17:11 I urge you to search the Scriptures and come to your own belief because the Bible is our only standard, not someone’s opinion.
I believe that ALL my sin, past, present, and future has been completely forgiven. I am confident of that based a large number of scriptures including what Jesus Christ Himself said; He said, ”Those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me HAVE eternal life. They will NEVER be condemned for their sins but have already passed from death to life.” (Jn. 5:24) The Apostle Paul amplifies it by saying; “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave ALL our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14) And in the Book of Hebrews, we read: ”I will NEVER again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” (Heb. 10:17) The cross is the only basis for the forgiveness of sin, and since it is a one-time event, all sin, the past, present, and future was dealt with there.
The majority of believers agree with those verses so why do they continue to ask God for forgiveness on a regular basis. It must be because of the patterns they have observed in their church culture. It’s common to hear people ask for forgiveness in the prayers of their pastor, Sunday School teacher, Bible Studies, etc. It might also be because many people find it hard to believe that God can forgive our future sins. If that is an issue for you, ask yourself these questions; How many of your sins did Jesus bear on the cross. (Answer, all of them) How many of your sins had been committed at that time? (Answer none). All your sins were future sins, so it’s obvious that God doesn’t have a problem forgiving future sins. If you agree with that, you can trust that all your sins have been forgiven; past, present, and future.
There are only a couple of Scriptures that cause people to think they must continue to ask God for forgiveness. One is the Lord’s Prayer in which we ask God to, “forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” (Matt. 6:12) It very clearly states that we are inviting God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others. In addition, Jesus states this principle even more forcefully when He says; “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14-15) That’s a pretty sweeping statement, and if that’s the standard for God’s forgiveness, no one has a chance. It leaves no room for being less than perfect in forgiving others. Thank God that the New Covenant supersedes this way of having our sins forgiven. Jesus instituted it in the upper room and confirmed it by sending the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The New Covenant of grace makes forgiveness a free gift, and it’s straightforwardly declared; “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Eph. 2:8-9) For me, it’s clear that the verses before the cross, which say God’s forgiveness is based on my performance, were applicable only under the “Old Covenant.”
It’s a new thought for some that Jesus was born under the law, which means He was subject to it. It fact Scripture says He fulfilled it perfectly. So, therefore, He taught many old covenant principals, especially by example. (Gal. 4:4-5) He kept the Mosaic law, Made animal sacrifices, Worshiped on Saturday, Ceremonial washings, etc. He also taught his hearers some strict standards of perfection like, “anger equals murder, looking with lust equals adultery, cut off your hand, pluck out your eye, be perfect, forgive others in order to be forgiven by God, etc.. Everything Jesus said was true, but it’s critical to understand that these demands of the Old Covenant law could only be fulfilled perfectly, by a perfect person. Jesus was that perfect, sinless person and He fulfilled them so if a person is “In Christ,” God sees them as having done so as well. The word hallelujah leaps to my lips.
Believing that I am completely forgiven has changed the way that I pray. As a new covenant believer, I pray the Lord’s Prayer like this. Rather than, “Forgive me the way I forgive others,” I affirm what I believe by saying, “Lord help me forgive others as you have forgiven me.” Even though I am totally forgiven I still sin, so as I become aware of a sin my prayer is something like; “Lord I agree with you that I have sinned and I am truly sorry. I don’t want to live like that so would you please help me be more consistent in my behavior. Thank you that you forgave all my sins when you placed me into Christ. I know you’re not mad at me because when Jesus was on the cross, you placed all your anger for my sin upon Him. Thank you that I am completely forgiven, and you see me as spotless as new snow. Once again I surrender and ask you to continue to live your life through me.” Then I go forward, live without condemnation, and continue to follow Jesus.
The second reference that confuses people about forgiveness says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and will cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” (1st Jn 1:9) As a non-believer, I did that, and I was forgiven and cleansed from ALL unrighteousness. I believe that a careful study of this chapter will reveal that as in most churches, there were unsaved folks in that local church who claimed that they had not sinned. One of the reasons John wrote this letter was to deal with those who believed the Gnostic teaching that Jesus had not come in the flesh – that He was an illusion, in fact, sin was an illusion. We cannot develop this thoroughly here, so I will leave it to you, but I urge you to study 1st John carefully. Some teachers say that this verse is like a bar of spiritual soap and we need to faithfully apply it to stay clean. When a person agrees with that, it moves them back into the legalistic camp, meaning our efforts are what keep us acceptable to God. That is not only unbiblical; it is unrealistic as well because it is impossible to apply that verse for every sin, every improper thought, etc. We should always be ready to confess sin and repent (i.e. live life in the opposite direction) but not to be forgiven.
While speaking at a Pastor’s conference, one pastor said he agreed we don’t need to continually ask forgiveness for salvation. Then he explained relationship vs. fellowship and in fellowship vs. out of fellowship. He said when we sin we break fellowship, so we need to ask forgiveness to get back in fellowship. I asked him if a person dies when they are “OUT” of fellowship, do they go to hell? He said no, so I asked, on what basis can they go to heaven if not for the complete and total forgiveness they received at the moment, they received Jesus? I also asked him if one unconfessed sin will cause a person to miss heaven. He also said no, so I reminded him that the Bible says the penalty of sin is death not getting out of fellowship and that it sounded like he and I were in more agreement than he first thought. (Rom. 6:23) I asked him to remember that all the prodigal son had to do was repent (live in the opposite direction) and go home. He tried to ask forgiveness, but the Father wouldn’t listen to him but rather said, let’s throw a party, my son has come home. Jesus did not name this parable; it was the translators that named it, the parable of the prodigal son. If Jesus had given it a name, it would most likely have been the parable of the loving waiting forgiving father. It’s an illustration of how God views His sons.
Another illustration that’s helpful is the Laodicean Church in Revelation Chapter 3. It had grown lukewarm which might be called “out of fellowship.” At any rate, Jesus was very upset with their condition, but they were not required to ask for forgiveness but rather to simply to open the door and fellowship would be restored. That is all that is needed when we have grown lukewarm. I think these two illustrations show us what to do when we have sinned? We should repent and go home or open a door that has been closed to Jesus.
You may fear that believing themselves to be totally forgiven will cause people to live careless lives, but for me, the exact opposite has been true. It is possible that after hearing that God has removed all our sin as far as the east is from the west, (that’s infinity) someone will either misunderstand or distort what it means. In Romans 6:1 Paul anticipates that, so he asks the question; “does that mean we can continue to sin” and then he gives an emphatic, “may it never be.” Again in verse 12; “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.” And in verse 15; “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not!” But what if I do sin? 1st John 2:1 has the answer, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (Another term for an advocate is defense attorney.) The penalty for my sin, past, present, and future has been paid, and I have been freely forgiven. Therefore, the picture in my mind when I sin is that Jesus is my defense attorney and He reminds the Father; Remember that one was paid for also. A sin does not cause me to stop being a son of God, but I do not take lightly Gods potential response. In both Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:6, it says, those he loves he disciplines as a father disciplines a son.
Let me give you two homemade parables. First: Two men are walking down a road, one in very dirty clothes, and the other in a white Tux. As they approach a mud puddle, which one is most likely to avoid the mud puddle? I think you will agree; it’s the one with the white Tux on. Secondly: Think of a country that’s ruled by a King. In this country, the punishment for prostitution is death. However, the king decides to give a blanket pardon to all prostitutes. It would be good news but would it motivate a change in lifestyle, Maybe, maybe not. However, let’s say that one prostitute was not only pardoned but the King asked her to be his wife and therefore become the queen. Do you think she would be motivated to leave her old life? Scripture says: If you are in Christ, you are now His Bride.
If we don’t understand, appropriate, and teach Gods TOTAL and COMPLETE forgiveness, We’re going to continue to produce believers who are thankful they’re going to heaven but who live lives that lack the freedom and joy we are meant to have.
Here are some of the things we say we believe, We are: In Christ; Spiritually Reborn; Redeemed; Saved; Name is written in the Lambs Book of life; Forgiven; We’re a new creation. Look at those again; THEY ARE ALL PAST TENSE. It is very important to understand this because what we believe about our standing with God affects our entire life.
We call ourselves believers: Let’s start believing what we say we believe.