Does a Christian Need to Ask God for Forgiveness After Sinning? (Part One)

“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!

5 thoughts on “Does a Christian Need to Ask God for Forgiveness After Sinning? (Part One)

  1. Thanks Bob. It seems that you may be oversimplifying a bit with making a difference between sin and sins. I think there may be a close relationship between forgiveness of sin and the Justification of the sinner. It may be the same relationship there is with atonement/redemption and forgiveness.

    What can we make of the following passages that seems to closely relate blood atonement (Col. 1:14), union with Christ (Col. 2:13) and adoption status (1J. 2:12) with forgiveness not just of sin but of sin[s] (transgression[s])?

    Colossians 1:14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
    Colossians 2:13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
    1 John 2:12 12 I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.

    1. Steve, so good to hear from you, brother! On justification, you may be more skilled than I am, and the Colossians 2:13 reference is sure precious (thank you), but here is how my mind is running:
      (1) In passages on forgiveness, the emphasis is often on individual transgressions. Intuitively, people feel this. A man transgresses the Law and then asks forgiveness for that particular transgression. In justification, the emphasis is on the guilt of the person himself. True, forgiveness is also applied to a person (the dative object, “to you”, appears often after the verb “forgive”), but it is in light of a specific action, or a bundle of specific actions. In justification, the transgressions are indirectly assumed and the guilt (the “sin”) of the person is central: “For he who has died is justified from the sin” (Greek, Romans 6:7).
      (2) Justification and the forgiveness of sins are necessarily related (as you point out):
      “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24)
      “in Whom we have redemption, [that is] the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14)
      Therefore, the judicial means of justification is the forgiveness of sins. In this case, the forgiveness of sins is bundled–it is a complete package (as in 1 John 2:12).
      (3) What I hope to explain in further posts is the practical way we apply this fact to our lives. At the present, I am laying the foundation of a permanent status before the Law. By the end, I hope to show that the ongoing priesthood of Jesus Christ, grounded in a one-time justification based on a one-time atonement, provides perpetual supply of “forgivenesses” (cf. Romans 4:25; 8:33-34; 1 John 1:7, 9, and 2:1-2).
      May God give me grace to see the truth better, and then to speak the truth better! I am eager to grasp the Gospel in more clearer light and then apply it to the nitty-gritty questions of everyday soul-experience. Thanks for you comment, Steve, for it really sharpens me and I learned through answering it! God bless you!

      1. Amen! Bob. Good word indeed. Oh, for grace to remember and reckon ourselves upon our sin, the cross and our justification / declared forgiveness.

  2. Hey brother! Good job in tackling this subject!

    Now, you know that we Lutherans take great stock in the “daily cycle of dying and rising”, that is to say, the daily dying of ourselves through confession of sins and receiving Christ’s forgiveness. So my quick answer would be to say most assuredly, “Yes! A Christian should confess their sins!”

    But your next point regarding that in which we trust–truly trust!–for forgiveness is critically important. Too often, I hear well-meaning Christians indicate that they can only be forgiven if they repent. And typically when I hear that sort of theology, I indicate that I understand the heart of what they are saying, but that nevertheless, as you said, justification with God is dependent not upon our ongoing work, but Christ’s completed work.

    It’s a delicate balance, because certainly we need to be able to confess to God, “I have not lived up to Your law.” And yet at the same time, we need to boldly say by faith, “And yet I know I am Your Holy child through the blood of Jesus Christ.”

    May God grant me the ability to teach and demonstrate how to walk that line with faith, boldness, and humility.

    1. Well said, brother. Your comments here seem to point in the direction where my posts will be heading, which I (Lord willing) hope to complete this week.

      In addition to the confession-forgiveness cycle, it should also be said that the Christian should do a regular reckoning (a firm mental affirmation) regarding his permanent position in Christ: “Therefore, reckon yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). This is based on justification, and provides the confident basis for a fully consecrated life (verses 12-14).

      I look forward myself to understanding traditional Lutheran theology better, and to interact with it in light of the Word. As you know, some elements of that theology do not settle well with me, but I do not want to comment until I closely consider Tappert’s book of Lutheran authorities.

      Grace to you, brother, on the other side of town!

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