Does a Christian Need To Ask God For Forgiveness?
By Pastor Tony Butler
A Favorite Chorus of mine:
Before the throne of God above I have a strong, a perfect plea: A great High Priest, whose name is Love, Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on his hands, My name is graven on his heart; I know that while in Heaven He stands No tongue can bid me thence depart.
When Satan tempts me to despair, And tells me of the guilt within, Upward I look, and see Him there Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died, My sinful soul is counted free; For God, the Just, is satisfied To look on Him and pardon me!”
Over the years I have discovered something interesting concerning Christians and their understanding of forgiveness. On one hand, Christians believe that all their sins have been forgiven through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and give a hearty "Amen!" when it is proclaimed from pulpits around the world (Heb. 10:15-18).
However, on the other hand, most Christians also believe that they need to confess their daily sins to God in order to receive daily forgiveness (IJN. 1:9). When this is taught from the pulpits it also produces a hearty "Amen!" without ever connecting in their minds that it is a contradiction of the total forgiveness given to us through the blood of Jesus.
As a pastor I realized the disconnect comes when people are forced to reconcile the two views of forgiveness simultaneously. Christians seem to have no problem if both are taught separately. As I said both teachings invoke a hearty “Amen” from God's people. However, when most Christians hear a pastor teach, “Jesus died for all your sins and we as believers in Jesus never have to ask God to forgive us again for the rest of our lives, no matter how many sins we commit because they all have already been forgiven”, then comes the giant disconnect which produces a Nicodemus “Huh?” in the majority of believers. Very few believers have ever sat down and really thought about the biblical difficulties connected with connecting the two views of forgiveness together simultaneously.
I am going to address this issue in a detailed and clear way so as to invoke thought, theological consistency and biblical truth on the important subject of once and for all foregiveness.You may or may not agree with my position on the matter but at least the issues will be addressed and your understanding will be strengthened. I know there are godly Christians that will disagree, but godly doesn’t always mean correct. I believe with all my heart that once and forever forgiveness is correct, balanced, and congruent with New Testament realities as to who we are in Christ and the spiritual blessings we have in Christ.
We are all commanded to rightly divide the truth. (II Tim. 2:15) So let’s get to it. To better understand the issues we need to ask ourselves some questions to get moving in the right direction.
To Properly Understand Forgiveness You Have To Understand The Covenants
What covenant did Jesus operate in while He was alive on the earth, the Old Covenant or the New Covenant?
The correct answer is the Old Covenant (Gal. 4:4). Jesus was born under the Law and was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (Mt. 15:24). Because Jesus lived under the covenant of law, His words reflected that covenant to the Jews. Under the old covenant the only blood ever shed for people was animal blood which had no power to forgive sins or perfect the believer before God. (Heb. 7:19; 9:9; 10:1-4; 11:40) Animal's blood could only cover/atone for sin until the Lamb of God would come and take away the sin of the world and remove it as far as the east is from the west and remember it no more (Jn. 1:29).
When I teach true believers that all their sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus and that they don’t have to ask God to forgive them anymore because they are all forgiven, the immediate response is for them to run over to the Old Covenant and quote Mt. 6:12 - “…and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.” and Mt. 6:14 - “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;.”
Christ’s statements above were addressed to the Jews alone and were “Law” based. Jesus was plainly saying to them that if there was a single person they did not fully forgive, then they would not be fully forgiven. No man could come into the presence of God unless they are fully forgiven. He is raising the standards of God beyond the Law to point people to the grace that He alone possessed. He was asking people who didn’t even have the Holy Spirit in them to do in the flesh what only God himself could do. You have to remember none of the New Testament blessing had been initiated because jesus had not yet go been to the cross. Pre-cross statements of Jesus can't trump post-cross realities.
What covenant are we under, the Old Covenant or the New?
The correct answer is the New testament (Heb. 12:24). Because we are under a brand new and superior covenant, we need to ask ourselves an important question; “How can a statement of Jesus made before the cross, under the Old Covenant, have more weight than the words of Jesus made after the cross, which has brought us into the New Covenant?”
The newer revelation always has the greater weight of authority than an older revelation. During the time of Christ’s preaching before the cross there was only animal’s blood that was shed and words spoken to the Jews by Jesus were all under the Old Covenant. There wasn't any testimony by the four gospel writers of once and forever forgiveness that would come to Jews and Gentiles alike through the shed blood of Jesus. This would only come later, after the resurrection of Jesus.
If you understand that Jesus was born and operated under the Old Covenant in the gospels, and if you understand the New Covenant is completely different than the Old Covenant, then you are well advised not to allow an Old Covenant teaching to Jews override the teachings of the Covenant of Grace in which we live.
When did the New Covenant begin, while Jesus was alive or when He died?
There is only one correct answer which is, "When He died". (Heb. 9:16-17) When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, that blood was poured out for all the sins of humanity for all time.1 John 2:2 – “And He is the propitiation concerning our sins, and not concerning ours only, but also concerning the sins of all the world.
One has to understand that the blood of Jesus is payment for all sin, for all time, for all people, even for those who had already died in the past, from Adam on. However, as our Passover Lamb, the blood is only applied to the hearts of those who had believed properly in the Old Covenant and those who believed in Jesus when He came to the earth.
“whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness through the passing by of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God;" Rom. 3:25
Hebrews 9:15 - “And for this cause He is the Mediator of the new covenant, so that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, those who are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance."
"… For also Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us."I Cor. 5:7b
There isn’t a single scripture after the cross that tells a believer to ask God for forgiveness!!! It is already accomplished. We as New Testament believers are told over and over in the Scriptures that all our sins are forgiven: past, present and future, and paid for by the blood of Jesus. Forgiveness of sins isn’t something you get on a daily basis on request to God. It is a once and for all act of God through the shed blood of Jesus which has forgiven us of all our sins. (I will address how a believer deals with sin later) Listed below are scriptures that declare this present reality of total forgiveness in the life of the believer:
Hebrews 10:15-18 - “The Holy Spirit also is a witness to us; for after He had said before, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord; I will put My Laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ also He adds, ‘their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more.’ Now where remission/forgiveness of these (sins) is, there is no more offering for sin.” (Not even a prayer of confession of sin for forgiveness)
1 John 2:12 – “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.”
Ephesians 1:7 – “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace,”
2 Corinthians 5:18-19 – “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them,”
Hebrews 10:12 – “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God…”
Matthew 26:28 – “for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”
Acts 13:38-39 – “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.”
Hebrews 8:12 - “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more”
Hebrews 9:26b – “… but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”
Hebrews 9:12 – “and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Hebrews 9:22 – “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”
Hebrews 10:18 – “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin” (not even prayers)
1 John 3:5 – “And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.”
Revelation 1:5 – “and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him wholoves us, and released us from our sins by His blood”
Notice, all the verses above are in the past tense. Forgiveness isn’t something God will do it is something He has already done in the life of the believer. At the cross, God poured out all His forgiveness toward those who are His. We don’t need to ask anymore! Paul described once and forever forgiveness in Colossians 2:13-14: “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
The question must be asked, “Which covenant are you going to live under concerning the forgiveness of sins?” You can ask God to forgive you everyday if you want. It won’t hurt your salvation, but it will keep you from understanding the greater reality of grace that has come to you through the shed blood of Jesus. Are you still living as if you were under the Old Testament by constantly asking for God’s forgiveness? Those days are over and finished! Rejoice in the truth that you are totally forgiven.
The writer of Hebrews said the following concerning the Old and New Covenant:
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says, “Behold, days are coming, says the lord, When I will effect a new covenant, With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and I did not care for them, says the lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be my people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all shall know me, From the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:7-12)
The truth of Scripture is that before we were ever born, God from eternity past saw every sin that we would commit. Every sin we would ever commit in our lifetime has been completely paid for and forgiven by the blood of Jesus. Jesus carried away our lifetime of sins to the cross, washed clean every stain and cancelled every debt. The blood of Jesus was taken before God the Father and placed on the heavenly mercy seat as an eternal reminder that the debt of sin of the whole world from Adam to the last man born on the planet has been paid in full. This should invoke nothing but praise by believers on earth as it does in believers in heaven. Dear Christian reader, we live under the New Covenant. It is a Covenant of Grace which is far superior to the Old Covenant. Let the blood of Jesus be your final answer to sin, not your daily requests for something that has already been given to you. (If you aren't convinced yet, please keep reading)
Once and for all forgiveness versus Confession forgiveness
OK, you read all this so far, and you are having to think about things perhaps in a way you never thought about them before, but you are still plagued by another verse that was given within the New Covenant, written by the apostle John:
1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Let’s look at this verse in two ways: logically and theologically.
1. Logically, we can see this verse has a stipulation contained in it. I John 1:9 requires something of the person.
We see the word “If” which clearly reveals choice to do or not to do. The word “If" is the Greek word ????? – ean, which is a Greek particle that denotes uncertainty or indefiniteness which simply is saying a person may or not do it. It depends on the choice of each individual.
Then we see the words “we confess” which implies a stipulation which requires an action on our part. The Greek word “Confess” means “to say the same thing as another, to agree with, assent, to concede.”
Then finally we see God, Who is declared to be just in order “to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”- the result of fulfilling the condition of confessing.
The question must be asked, “If forgiveness only comes as a result of our confession of sins, then what happens if we don’t confess them?” John says they are only forgiven "if" they are confessed. Suppose a Christian asks for forgiveness for sins in the evening when he/she prays. The next morning he/she awakens and has a sinful thought or commits and act of sin. What if he/she dies on the way to work without having asked for forgiveness? Is he/she going to stand before God unforgiven? (Many false Christian groups would answer by saying, "Yes") Should we live our lives in a constant fear that we may miss a final request for forgiveness? This is diametrically opposed to the long list of scripture above stating our sins having been already forgiven. How can we reconcile the two, since they are both written under the New Covenant?
You might be thinking at this point, "Is it bad to ask for forgiveness"? As a pastor I think many people ask God to forgive them in the same way that people say “I’m sorry.” God knows the heart of each person. However, I do think it is bad to deny the benefits of the Blood of the New Covenant so that forgiveness rests on a condition of confession. The one who says “Forgive me” as “I’m sorry” needs to realize that all their sins have already been paid for and that there is zero possibility of them dying in condemnation because they didn’t get a chance to confess their sins before they died. Anyone who believes that that they have to confess their sins before they die in order to be saved is putting their trust in themselves for salvation by what they do instead of trusting Christ for what he has already done in their behalf (Eph. 2:8,9).
2. Theologically, we need to examine the context of I John 1:9 and discover to whom the text refers. No other verse in all the combined epistles places a conditional "if" on forgiveness and cleansing. There are numerous verses declaring our sins are once and forever completely forgiven as seen above. So how do we deal with this singular verse? There are only a couple ways to look at it. The first is that I John 1:9 is written to Christians and contradicts the majority of clear statements of total forgiveness by the blood, even later comments by John himself. The second way to look at it is to see it wasn’t referring to believers at all, but to un-believers.
If you apply it to unbelievers, it is completely in line with the whole of Scripture. Unsaved men confess to God their sin and He forgives them of “All” their sins and cleanses them of “All” unrighteousness. This sounds just like the benefits that Christians are said to have as a result of believing in Jesus. Even the conditional “If” makes sense. Salvation is a choice one has to make.
All scholars agree that John was facing a prevalent heresy in his day called Gnosticism. Gnosticism held two major beliefs that went directly against Christianity. First, that Jesus was only present on earth in the Spirit but never in the flesh. And second, they denied the reality of sin. This will help you understand why the Gospel of John begins with the Deity of Christ and His coming in the flesh, and why I John begins in the following words:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched (see what he is saying? "We saw him… Jesus was real flesh and blood. We touched him.") - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (dealing with the issue of sin) If we confess our sins; he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.(1 John 1:1-9)
Now, with the context and history in mind, can’t you see what John is really saying? Is he saying that Christians need to confess their sins in order to be forgiven, or is he saying that those who have false beliefs (gnosticism) aren’t Christians, but if they will just confess their sins then God will forgive them? Look just a few verses down when John truly address Christians: 1 John 2:12 – “I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake.” 1 John 1:9 is simply an invitation for a Gnostic heretic to become a Christian.
The Perfect Sacrifice Bringing Perfect Forgiveness
Imagine for a moment if the Jews in the wilderness under the Old Covenant had found a sacrifice that took away their sins once and for all forever. Do you really think they would have continued in animal sacrifice to atone for their sins? The ministry of the tabernacle would have ended right there and the tent torn down. Israel would have bee sin free, guilt free, and condemnation free with full access to come before God. The Levitical priesthood would be totally unnecessay because there would be no need for mediation in behalf of the people. All the people would rejoice!
Unfortunately that never happened and the sacrifices continued, year after year because they were still guilty because animal blood couldn’t remove sins. Hebrews 10:1-2 says "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?
However, one day a prophet by the name of John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, "Look, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" The Bible teaches us that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, that Jesus’ sacrifice cleansed us once and for all, not repeatedly over time, so there is no method or procedure that is required for us to remain forgiven. One of Jesus' disciples named Peter said, "Christ died for sins ONCE FOR ALL, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God." (1 Peter 3:18)
I want to ask you a question, What would make a person feel better; daily confessing sin and the need of continuous sacrifices that only covered daily confessed sins, or receiving eternal forgiveness that came from a once and forever offering for sin from a perfect sacrifice?
No amount of confessing sins to God will bring us more forgiveness than what we have through Christ’s perfect sacrifice. Since the one perfect sacrifice and shedding of blood has been accomplished, there is nothing more to do concerning forgiveness than to rejoice in what God has done for us. Christ’s blood is eternally effective, redemptive, and eternally sufficient for every sin we have committed in the past, to the last sin we will ever commit in the future. They were all paid for 2000 years ago. Because of this there is no more need for sacrifices, confessions or anything else to access the throne of grace boldly. Every Christian must make a decision with their own heart: Are all my sins forgiven by the one-time sacrifice of Jesus and the shedding of His blood or is forgiveness contingent on my confessions of sin to God?
The Issue Of Simplicity
I think some of the problems people have with accepting that all their sins are forgiven for all time, whether they confess them or not, has to do the idea of ease. It just sounds too easy! “There has to be more to it,” they think. “There must be something I have to do to secure forgiveness.” It is the same thing unbelievers fall prey to when they think they have to work for their salvation. They just don’t see that everything is settled by what Christ did for us and not what we do. Thinking on this level underestimates and devalues the price paid by the shedding of Christ's blood on the cross. When you are considering what your understanding is concerning once and for all forgiveness, never approach the subject by thinking in terms of ease. There was nothing easy about what Jesus did for us on the cross.
Many people believe that forgiveness comes by doing good, by making prayer chants, or by confessing their daily sins to priests or God. Yet the Bible makes it clear without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. In my opinion as a pastor, when we fail to recognize the sufficiency of the blood to cleanse us from all our sins at the time of salvation, we are guilty of either minimizing the sacrifice of Christ or improperly interpreting scripture by incorrectly dividing the word of truth. (II Tim. 2:15)
False Ideas Connected To Total Once And Forever Forgiveness
There are three primary objections raised by people when I share the reality of once and forever forgiveness by the shed blood of Jesus so that true Christians need never to ask God to forgive them ever again.
Total Once And Forever Forgiveness leads To Sinful Living
I find it interesting that people think this way, because God says the exact opposite. Biblically, it leads believers to come boldly before God.
Hebrews 10:18-19 – “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Therefore, brothers, having boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus,” It gives a clear conscience and cancels condemnation in our lives (Heb. 9:14). Nowhere in the bible is the slightest hint that once and forever forgiveness leads to loose living. The thought never crosses the apostle’s minds. It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. The purpose of total forgiveness is so we can draw near to God, not run away from Him and delight in sin. (Rom. 6:15)
Total Once And Forever Forgiveness Requires No Responsibility Of The Believer
Nowhere in the bible is grace given as an excuse to sin. The grace of God teaches us just the opposite. (Titus 2:11-12) No one who practices open rebellion and sin can possibly be a Christian. (I John 3:8) We as believers possess the Spirit of Holiness and are God’s holy ones through faith in Christ. The true Christian has the power of a new life in Christ and has passed from death to Life. (Rom. 8:1-2) Once forgiven, a Christian begins a life built on the grace of God that receives Him completely through the person and work of Christ on the cross. (Eph. 2:1-8)
What God has cleansed and forgiven, we should count cleansed and forgiven. When we sin as new Covenant believers we aren’t called to ask God for forgiveness, but we are asked by God to repent. Repentance means to have a change of heart. It is moving away from what is false to that which is true. True repentance always flows from godly sorrow. When we sin against God we know we have quenched or grieved the Holy Spirit. We can sense that we have gone against the character and holy nature of God. That prompts a sorrow in the true believer which brings genuine repentance, which results in turning away from sin.
2 Corinthians 7:9-10 – “Now I rejoice, not that you were grieved, but that you grieved to repentance. For you were grieved according to God, so that you might suffer loss by nothing in us. For the grief according to God works repentance to salvation, not to be regretted, but the grief of the world works out death.”
It is impossible to repent and have godly sorrow without any confession to God. Confession merely means to agree with God and speak truth. When a Christian sins it is as normal as breathing to speak of his/her failure to God and ask Him for help from the throne of grace. (Heb. 4:16) The Bible will tell Christians to put off the deeds of the flesh, the Bible will tell us to walk in the newness life, and the Bible will tell us not to sin. However, if we do sin, we are not told to ask God for forgiveness, but to realize that we have an advocate in heaven Who has completely satisfied the Father’s righteous standards in our behalf.
“But if we do sin, we are told we have an advocate, Jesus the righteous, Who is the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 2:1)
No where are we to ask God to forgive us, because that has already been accomplished.
Total Once And Forever Forgiveness Has No Consequence For Sin In The Life Of The Believer
Tell that to Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1-5) Tell that to the Corinthians who died and were sick because of improper conduct. (I Cor. 11:29, 39) This is simply a false statement. The apostle Paul, more than anyone, taught once and forever forgiveness who never even gave the slightest hint that a believer should ask God for forgiveness. The same Apostle Paul calls Christians to remember the sins of Israel and how they were punished lest any believer should think they could sin without retribution. (I Cor. 10:1-12) The bible clearly teaches God’s chastisement in the life believers. (Heb. 12:8; Rev. 3:19)
Christians reap from sin in two ways; First, they reap the consequences of their actions, and secondly they can reap the consequences of God’s re-action. No Christian gets away with anything. Sin never promotes anything healthy in the life of a believer and always brings a negative consequence, whether we believe it or not.
I believe the Scripture under the New Covenant teaches all our sins as believers are already completely forgiven without having to ask God to forgive us again. Scripture concerning forgiveness in the four gospels that are still in the context of the Old Covenant are negated by than post resurrection realities under the new Covenant in the life of a true believer in Jesus.
I also believe that the clearly expressed realities of the blood of Jesus applied to the believer for the complete forgiveness of sins demands that I John 1:9 is referring to non-Christians and is inviting them to be saved. If that isn’t true then there is a clear contradiction between all of sins being forgiven by the blood of Jesus the moment we believed and the conditional forgiveness that only comes by personal confession of sins. (Some will disagree, saying John is only speaking of relational forgiveness and Paul speaks of eternal forgiveness. I understand what they are saying but I just don’t buy it. It is just another philosophical application trying to undo the seeming contradiction between once and forever forgiveness versus conditional forgiveness. I don’t believe it has basis in Scripture.
I have laid before you the main issues as I understand them. I hope this has challenged or helped you in some way. If we still disagree, let us disagree agreeably. Should you want to discuss this more fully you can come and talk to me in person or e-mail me email@example.com
God bless you and have a Jesus filled day!