He’s doing so first by restoring humans to himself in this current age as the firstfruits of the new creation (Rom. 8:23; James 1:18); Jesus’ resurrection being the first of the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). Then, when he returns, Jesus is newly creating the heavens and the earth (Rom. 8:19-22; 2 Peter 3:10-13).
That is all part of the good news of the kingdom, that Jesus took away the sin of the world, in his death, so that he may redeem the world, by his life. This is the big picture perspective of the forgiveness of sins, but now let’s zoom in to examine the forgiveness of sins as it relates specifically to humanity.
On the night Jesus was betrayed, he spoke of the bread that represented his death and the wine that signified the imminent shedding of his blood:
for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28 ESV)
The Law of Moses was saturated with ordinances regarding sacrifice as a symbolic means of purification, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). But those sacrifices never accomplished the end goal; they were merely a representation, a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice: “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4).
Christ is the reality those sacrifices foreshadowed. Those sacrifices could never take away sins, but Jesus “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:12). When Jesus took away sins, it was forever; those sins never to be taken into account ever again! Praise Jesus!
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7 ESV)
Because of the death of Jesus, those who believe in him, to the extent that they turn their allegiances unto him and live a new life in Christ, receive the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 10:43). All sins! Past sins and future sins. All sins forgiven to those who bear his name.
That brings us to our first common misconception about forgiveness: a perceived need to ask God forgiveness each time we sin.
ASKING FORGIVENESS FOR EVERY SIN
The reality is that if God has forgiven a person their sins, they are completely and utterly forgiven. Not partially forgiven. Not temporarily forgiven. Always and ever forgiven!
Forgiveness is dependent upon the cross upon which Jesus died:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14 ESV)
The record of debt that was held against us was nailed to the cross!
If we suggest that we need to ask God for forgiveness every time we sin, how do we think we get forgiven? Does Jesus need to be re-sacrificed every time we sin? No! His one-time sacrifice paid it all.
If we suggest that we need to ask God for forgiveness every time we sin, what has changed about our status before God?
We are united with Christ in his death. When Jesus died, we died (Rom. 6:3-11). When Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross, our guiltiness went with it. If we are forgiven prior to our next sin, what has changed regarding our union with Christ that we’ll be unforgiven after our next sin?
Do we contribute to our own forgiveness by our asking for it? Is our forgiveness dependent upon us? May we never think so! Only by the blood of Jesus!
If we don’t ask for forgiveness, do we walk in a state of being unforgiven by God? Do we fall into and out of forgiveness based on our actions? That is not the gospel!
God’s forgiveness is based on a one-time sacrifice for sins. This is contrary to the way the ancient people attempted to appease their pagan gods. Always needing to be appeased, always demanding penitence; the pagan gods are a cruel bunch, and the forgiveness of God through Jesus is nothing like it. Yet the pagan-style pursuit for forgiveness has crept into Christian thinking all too commonly.
So, do we have to ask forgiveness for every sin? People like to advocate repeated need for forgiveness by quoting this passage:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 ESV)
That is absolutely true! If we agree with God (literally “to say the same word”; i.e., “be in agreement”, translated “confess”) the reality of our sinfulness, God is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us.
Some suggest asking for forgiveness for every sin and use this verse as validation. The context of this verse is a contrast between those who do acknowledge their sinfulness and those who refuse to acknowledge their sinfulness. Look at the verses immediately preceding and following:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. … If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8, 10 ESV)
Therefore, 1 John 1:9 is not a lifestyle verse. It’s a conversion verse! It contrasts the believer who walks in light and is cleansed from all sin by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7) from those who walk in darkness and do not abide in the truth (1 John 1:6).
And, yes, when a Christian does sin, an acknowledgment or confession to God is appropriate. But it is not about re-seeking forgiveness. Believers must unlearn the pagan mindset about always needing to appease an angry pagan god, and rest with thankfulness in the ongoing forgiveness of a loving God because Jesus paid for it all.
OUR NEW IDENTITY
All humans are born in sin and under its curse. Save for one, of course; an Anointed one.
We are born sinners. What many Christians don’t appreciate is that there a significant identity change when one comes to the Lord. Believers are made a new creation in Christ. What was of the old (our status as sinners) has passed away, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17), having been reconciled to God and our sin no longer held against us (2 Cor. 5:18-19). More so, our identity has become “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 3:22).
Of course, this doesn’t mean that believers don’t ever sin. We will still err and choose wrongly at times. But our identity is no longer that of a sinner, our identity is that we are saints (i.e., “holy ones”; set apart for God).
Our identity change is rooted in the change in our spiritual DNA, from that of spiritual deadness to spiritual life. We are all born in Adam and therefore also born in sin (Rom. 5:12), but once a person has been made spiritually alive in Christ by the work of the Spirit, everything has changed!
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 ESV)
Those who have been brought into union with Jesus were born into the identity as sinners, but reborn into the identity of righteous. It’s not our own righteousness (Phil. 3:9), nothing we bring to the equation, but Jesus’ righteousness abiding in a changed person.
Christians like to say that they’re sinners who have been forgiven. This is irrefutably and beautifully true, to the praise of God’s grace. But Christians often stop there and don’t recognize that they have been made so much more than that! Christians know the sinfulness they’ve been saved from, but not often enough do they recognize what they’ve been saved to.
We’ve been saved to righteousness. We’ve been saved to fellowship with God. We’ve been saved into Christ as his members. By Jesus’ indwelling Spirit, he abides in us and we in him. We’re no longer merely sinners who have received forgiveness; we are the very hands and feet of Jesus on earth, who is functioning through us to perform his will! That’s the tremendous extent of our identity change!
Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth that certain sinful identities would not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). One of them Paul listed was “sexually immoral.” Unfortunately, sexual immorality was an ongoing practice among some of the believers (1 Cor. 6:12-21). Despite the fact that sexual immorality was still being practiced, Paul reassured them that they no longer held that identity or the other identities mentioned in verses 9-10:
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV)
Instead of calling them according to the identity of sinners or sexually immoral, Paul reminded them of their true identity:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? … Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:15a, 19 ESV)
Their identity change went from being “sexually immoral” (and such were some of them) to being members of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the sexual immorality that remained in practice needed to come to a stop. But their identity change was complete; they just needed to live up to their new identity.
Some may point out that Paul once referred to himself as a sinner; yea, the chief of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). So shouldn’t we still consider ourselves sinners?
Look more deeply at the passage. Paul is providing a testimony of the “perfect patience” of Jesus (v. 16). Jesus showcased his perfect patience when Paul acted formerly as Saul who was “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (v. 13). The source of Paul’s sinfulness was in regards to who he was in the past. His new identity has given him “a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). Not a sinful heart, a wicked conscience, and a pathetic faith.
Recall the foreshadowing provided by the sacrificial system. Purification was very closely related to cleansing, and the shedding of blood represented the forgiveness of God. These sacrifices never truly brought forgiveness.
In reality, the forgiveness of God comes only by the blood of Jesus. And all those who have received God’s forgiveness have received it in total, a completed work.
Therefore, when a believer does sin, he or she is to acknowledge it and confess it to God, thankful for the forgiveness that has already been accomplished on their behalf in the death of Christ. If restitution is appropriate in the circumstances, it must be made. If the sin involved offending others, forgiveness should be asked of the offended person(s). But the believer’s forgiveness from God is already secure and unwavering.
We have no need to seek additional forgiveness. That would require Jesus’ sacrifice all over again, as though his one-time sacrifice wasn’t sufficient.
If you are indeed in Christ, you are no longer deemed a sinner, but a saint. Your identity has changed and you are now God’s chosen vessel. You might still sin, but you have Jesus as an advocate that secures your status as forgiven, cleansed, and set apart as holy. You, dear brother and sister, have been made a new creation!
We were formerly sinners. But we have been washed. We have been sanctified. We have been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, the anointed one.
We have been forgiven and cleansed entirely and completely. Let us walk according to that reality!