“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
Should a Christian ask forgiveness for his sins? Yes. Must he do so in order to be forgiven? Not necessarily.
According to Jesus, we should regularly ask forgiveness for our sins–perhaps just as regular as asking for daily bread. In doing so, the request is general. It does not itemize sins in order for them to be forgiven. Sure, if a sin is known, we should confess it, just as we make mention of specific needs beyond our daily bread; but please note, it is not wrong to pray a “blanket prayer” for forgiveness. Conversely, it is not necessary to itemize sins for forgiveness. According to the word of God, there is sin within us that remains unknown to us (Psalm 40:12; 139:23-24; cf. Jeremiah 17:9). God alone knows the heart. “Who can understand his errors?” asks the psalmist rhetorically; therefore, the follow-up request is general: “Cleanse me from secret faults” (Psalm 19:12).
In asking forgiveness, we Christians should keep in mind two things. First, we ask on the basis of a permanent relationship with God as our Father. Just as in Christ, our status as “righteous” and as “clean” does not dissipate when our daily sin-count fluctuates, so also God ever remains our Father in Christ, and we address Him as such in order to receive the forgiveness of sins.
Second, the forgiveness of sins is something that Jesus purchased in bulk for us on the Cross. In Him, “we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). Therefore, when we ask for forgiveness, we are asking for a benefit to be applied that Christ already purchased on our behalf. Since we already have it, we are sure to receive it every time we ask–and even when we fail to ask.
Interestingly, this constant application of the blood of Christ to our souls falls under the doctrine of Christ’s intercession for us in heaven. As our ever-living Priest, He is able to save us “to the uttermost” because He ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). According to this Scripture, our full salvation in the future depends upon this constant intercession in the present. Though we have been justified by Christ’s death, we should not forget that “we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:9-10).
Justification occurred at one moment in time; but our sinning has continued beyond that point. How is it that we are not condemned for this subsequent behavior? According to Paul, it is based upon the risen Christ’s intercession for us at the right hand of the Father (Romans 8:34). God justified us (verse 33); therefore, on that basis, Christ continues to intercede for us. In John’s terminology, Christ Jesus is our Advocate, whose blood continues to cleanse us (present tense) from “all sin” (1 John 1:7; 2:1-2). In a sense, we are clean not only due to our initial cleansing (justification), but also due to continual cleansing, despite our daily contact with filth.
Therefore, a Christian should readily ask the Father for forgiveness, fully expecting to receive it due to the intercession of Christ in heaven. Having such a High Priest, we should ask “boldly,” for due to Him the throne of God has become a “throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:14-16). True, we should not abuse this forgiveness–and no true Christian will persistently, due to regeneration (1 John 3:9; cf. 2:1a)–but neither should we minimize its importance, thinking that uncertainty regarding forgiveness will keep people in check. Quite the opposite. The Bible says that grace trains us to “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12). It is those who have a certain hope of heaven that purify themselves, even as He is pure (1 John 3:3). And since they are still purifying themselves, there must yet be some remnant of filth needing forgiveness. Praise God for forgiveness! We can ask–and we should ask–and we shall receive, through the intercession of Jesus Christ, our Advocate, our High Priest. To Him be the glory! And through Him, to God the Father! Amen.