“In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
Here is the rub. Suppose you are a Christian. You sin, and then repent. Should you ask God to forgive you? According to the Scriptures, the forgiveness of sins is something you already have through the blood of Christ. If you have it, should you ask for it? Do you need to ask for it? What does the Bible say?
Before answering, let me first note that our true faith is shown in our day-to-day inner conversation. One illuminating question for discovering a person’s true view of the Gospel is to ask, “What do you do after you sin?” In posing the question like that, all of a sudden we are out of the classroom and into the streets of real life, where Jesus Himself talked with real people about real needs. So…what do you do when you sin? If you are a Christian, what should you do?
Let me give you four pictures from the New Testament to help explain the answer. (In this installment, we will only be able to cover the first picture.) May God give me the grace to explain it clearly.
First, there is the courtroom imagery of the apostle Paul. According to this official representative of Christ, God is the Judge, and we have been sentenced for sin. Only two options are before us: He can either condemn us or He can justify us. If He condemns us, we suffer the wages of sin, which is death. If He justifies us, we enjoy the rewards of righteousness, which is life. Which will it be?
In our own selves, the matter has already been settled. He must condemn us, and in fact has already condemned us in our father Adam, for we all have sinned (Romans 5:12-21). That is why we all die. It matters not how good we appear in the eyes of others; before God, we have no boast (Romans 4:2). Our only hope is found in a Substitute dying in our place. Since Jesus died in the place of sinners, God can now “justify the ungodly” who believe in His Son (Romans 4:5). Literally, God judicially declares us righteous the moment we truly believe in Christ. At that moment, He reckons Christ’s death on the cross as our death, and He reckons His righteous standing before the Law as our standing (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the only way of salvation. Among believers, Paul wrote, “There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24). In other words, we are “justified by His blood” (Romans 5:9; cf. Isaiah 53:11).
As a result, the believing sinner (a.k.a. “Christian”) is justified forever, and shall never be condemned (Romans 8:1; cf. John 5:24). He has peace with God (Romans 5:1), and will certainly be glorified someday (Romans 8:30).
In my opinion, justification may be the missing truth in the forgiveness question. Forgiveness pertains to sins, but justification pertains to sin. Forgiveness is piecemeal, but justification is permanent. Forgiveness happens again and again, but justification happens once in life, at the moment our heart believes in Christ Jesus as Priest and King (Romans 10:10). Thereafter, we have a permanent status with God–the label “righteous” in Christ–a status that does not improve when we have an obedient day as a Christian, nor diminish if we have a disobedient day.
Granted, because we are reckoned righteous now, in this life, we are rewarded in Christ with the life-giving Spirit, by whom we are killing off sin and making overall progress in holiness (Romans 8:13-14). Yes, we still sin, and will do so until we die; but being led by the Spirit, we do see progress, for we truly are alive in Christ (Romans 7:14 – 8:4).
My main point is: If you are a genuine Christian, your status before God is no longer dependent upon your performance, but on your union with Christ. Justification is through faith, because it depends not on your effort, but on what Somebody Else did for you. Therefore, justification is not dependent on whether you remember to ask forgiveness for the sins you commit daily. Heaven is no longer hanging in the balance.
So…should you ask for forgiveness? Lord willing, next time, we will consider 1 John 1:9. Until then, grace to you!