Should Christians Ask God For Forgiveness?
In the GraceTALK segment on 12.31.23, a question was asked:
“If we are forgiven for our sins, and the blood of Christ has covered the transgression, should we ask for forgiveness today? Could it be offensive to God, a slight against the work of Christ in forgiving us all our sins?”
The answer to this question turns on the understanding of what Christ accomplished in our position with God at salvation – our justification. If a person, who has trusted in Christ as their Savior, believes that asking for forgiveness is required to secure more forgiveness, it would be offensive to God. Why? Jesus has secured all the forgiveness possible, for all our sins – past, present, and future. Jesus took the wrath of God on Himself for our violation of His Holiness when he died on the cross. God confirmed this payment when Jesus rose from the grave. The very ministry of Jesus centered around the offer of complete forgiveness secured by Christ (Mark 1:1–8; 2:1–12; 3:22–30; 4:1–20; 11:25–26; Luke 1:67–80; 3:1–20; 5:16–26; 6:27–38; 7:40–50; 11:1–4; 12:1–12; 15:11–32; 17:1–10; 23:26–49; 24:44–48; John 1:29–34; 7:53–8:11; 20:19–25) and expressed throughout the establishment of Christ’s Church (Acts 2:14–39; 3:11–26; 5:22–32; 7:54–60; 8:14–25; 10:34–43; 13:13–41; 26:12–18).
Paul echoes the comprehensive nature of our forgiveness as the basis for our relationship with Him.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… (Ephesians 1:7).
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, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Col 2:13–14).
Paul uses our complete forgiveness by Christ as a motivating factor to extend unlimited forgiveness to others.
…bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:13).
Therefore, asking God to forgive us repeatedly is effectively endorsing the idea that Christ’s work on our behalf was insufficient. Additionally, it gives us the task of remembering and confessing every sin we would commit after our conversion. This arrangement also minimizes our sin by addressing only the wrongs of our actions. It fails to realize that sin is also the absence of loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). Individuals who believe they must confess each of their sins to be forgiven throughout their lives must become the active agent in their own salvation. In this scenario, justification is based on the work of Christ AND their action of continual confession. In this scenario, Christ becomes the passive agent – merely the resource for our work.
For the person who understands that their sins are forgiven past, present, and future already (that Christ’s work cannot be established nor enhanced based on our request) then that person can express a need for forgiveness in a mournful, penitent manner. The forgiveness being asked for is not to expiate sin but a genuine and sincere response to a known violation of God’s will for his or her life. As a matter of fact, a follower of Christ will confess their continual need for forgiveness until he or she is in the presence of Christ. However, the forgiveness for sins was secured by Christ and completed when a person places their faith in the work of Christ on their behalf. Confessing our genuine and abiding need for continual forgiveness and recognizing and responding to our wayward posture with repentance and contrition is more of a confirmation that we have been forgiven than a requirement to receive forgiveness. Let’s look at the classic passage in Scripture that will shed more light on this subject.
The most prominent verse used to advance the notion our fellowship with God is determined by continually confessing and receiving forgiveness for our sins is 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 explore what John intended for us to understand when he wrote this.
1 John 1:1–2:2
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
I. John’s Salvific Standard.
v.5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
II. John’s distinguishing between the lost and the found.
In vv. 6-2:2, John uses the conditional clause – “If/we” to provide a self-assessment tool for the reader to discover their spiritual identity. John envisioned two groups – the first group is in fellowship with one another and God, while the secone group is not. The force of John’s argument is: If you (believe or say or do) “X,” then you are … in fellowship with God and one another (v.7, 9, 2:1-2). If you (believe or say or do) “X” then you are out of fellowship with God and one another (v.6, 8, 10).
John’s use of the term “fellowship” would be akin to our understanding that a person is “saved.” To be “in fellowship with God” is to be a Christian in the mind of John. Again, John is NOT using this term regarding the vitality of a person’s relationship with God – being “in” or “out” of fellowship based on one’s obedience. While this idea is prominent in many churches, it is not an idea born from any text but from an attempt to make sense of the strain a person will have when “living in sin.” I have written previously on this in another blog – “The Carnal Christian?”
v.6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
The first category of those not “in fellowship” (not “saved”) consists of those who ignored their sin as if it did not really matter. They claimed to have fellowship with God, to share common aspects of life with Him (i.e. “eternal life,” John 17:3). However, the claim is meaningless if one continues to walk in the darkness. Why? Because “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” In other words, there is no way the Spirit of life lives in them, for they disregard the very God who lived and died for them so they can live a Godward life. Therefore, a Christian cannot ignore the existence of personal iniquity and walk in darkness (cf. Col. 1:12–14). No matter the claim for oneself, the genuineness of faith can always be seen in the life that loves righteousness (Matt. 7:15–20), for that is what God loves.
v.7 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 cleanses us from all sin.
No doubt, a person said to John, “Well, what happens when I sin? What happens to the transgression? If I don’t do anything (images of Jewish sacrifices or (for Gentiles) an offering to the gods would have filled their culture), then where does it go?” Contrary to v. 6, a Christian manifests a life (“walk” – pattern or habit of life) that is consistent with the ways of God – who has been pictured as being analogous to light – “he is light” (see v.5). Given that this is the case, the individual can have confidence that anytime sin enters the picture, “the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin.” The imagery is that the moment darkness (a.k.a. “sin”) comes into the life of a Christian, the blood of Christ overwhelms and cleanses it like darkness being overcome and dissolved by light. Since the blood of Jesus Christ continually cleanses away every impurity, sin can never change a believer’s standing before God. There is nothing a disciple of Christ can add to regarding their standing before God because the value and worth of Christ do not need to be enhanced nor strengthened by any act or petition on our part. It could be said that this view is God’s view, the way that God sees the situation – our justification based on the merit of Christ secured by faith alone.
v.8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
A second group of people professing to “have fellowship” with God and the Church also claim(s) to have no sin. This position differs from the first in that the stance is prouder, more arrogant, an expression of transcendence: “I used to sin, but I don’t sin anymore.” These people would claim to have reached a higher spiritual plane where sin no longer exists. The idea of overcoming their fallen condition completely misunderstands that we are “simultaneously just and sinner” (Lat. simul ustis et peccator). The Reformation teaching – that we are just (or righteous) before God through the imputation of the merits of Christ received by faith in Christ alone and that we are still sinners, in which the principle of our self-dependency (our “flesh” – Gk. “sarx“), continues to bend our allegiance, is completely lost on this group or individual. The critical component in this group is the distinction between justification before God – based on faith in the work of Christ and our sanctification in God based on our growing trust in Christ more and more.
v.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
It is vital to remember that this verse is a specific reaction and answer to the previous view held in v.8 – “I used to sin, but I don’t sin anymore.” If v. 7 can be said to be God’s view when sin enters our life, then v. 9 could be said to be our view when sin enters our life. The person who confesses their sins – the reality and affirm that it is a transgression of God’s holy law and a violation of His will, is the person to whom He is “faithful and just to forgive” [their] “sins and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.” John is making the point that sincere and legitimate believers don’t come to the point of not sinning (see v.8) but are continually confessing their experience as sinners, in need of God’s faithfulness to his promise to be cleansing us (see v. 7) constantly. John is not saying that forgiveness is based on their ongoing confession. Still, their ongoing pattern of confession is a sign that they have been forgiven (see 1 Timothy 1:15). The confession will grow and expand because the Holy Spirit is sanctifying the disciple of Christ to understand the depth and breadth of self-dependency in his or her heart as they mature. The believer will experience a greater hatred of their sin and a depth of penitence before their Savior for the work He has done in rescuing them from their sin.
v.10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The third group claims to have never sinned. The assertion of this group makes God a liar when He has clearly said that all people have sinned, and, second, they deny the need for a Savior. In this way, Jesus is made utterly irrelevant in their life for the purpose for which He came – to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).
v.1 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. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
John’s desire, as is the desire of every Christian, is to honor Christ as Lord and never to disobey His will. John also knows that this will not be his nor our reality until we are home with the Lord (see Romans 7:14- 25, 2 Corinthians 5:1- 5). Therefore, until then, John envisions a courtroom in which our sinful actions demand a reckoning, and Christ stands as our advocate. We nor Christ denies our guilt; both express it willfully, but Christ acts as “the righteous” who satisfies the Holy standard of the Law of God. The strength of Christ’s propitiating work is sufficient for anyone who trusts Him as Savior – even the whole world. The good news of our justification on the merits of Christ provides both the security for our hope before a holy God and THE motivating factor – the “want” to obey God in light of His incredible mercy and grace.