Embracing Our Complete Forgiveness
A big hurdle in understanding our complete forgiveness in Jesus and no need for continuing confession and forgiveness is two thousand years of church history, predominantly coming from the Catholic church. If you have ever watched Father Brown on PBS, you have heard the well-known start of any good confession, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been four days since my last confession …” A true Catholic confession includes asking for forgiveness and agreeing to acts of penance and vowing to not sin again.
Somehow, a version of this practice has extended to the Protestant Sunday morning experience. Maybe it is a sense of fairness that suggests that we should still pay for our sins even post-salvation. After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch. You cannot be let off scot-free when it comes to your sin. Someone needs to pay and it better be you, the perpetrator. And one way you can pay, even the score, and settle your debt with God is through confession, repentance, and seeking forgiveness. But that completely misses the point and the result of God’s incredible grace.
And the point it misses is that God’s grace is exactly that; beautifully unfair. That is what makes it grace. God’s grace is incredibly free to you and me. It cost us nothing. At the cross, Christ took your place as an act of infinite love and grace, and when you believe in Jesus, your guilt is erased for all time.
Another challenge is I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Many believe this is describing an ongoing need for confession and forgiveness. I believe that in the context of John’s letter as a whole, this verse is an invitation to unbelievers. It describes what happens when we first acknowledge our sin and embrace Jesus as our Savior. And God’s promise, in response to our belief in Jesus, is complete forgiveness and cleansing the hour we first believed. I have written extensively in other places about why I believe this. Here is a link if you are interested.
It is interesting that later in this same letter when John is clearly speaking to believers with the use of the phrase, “little children”, he emphasizes that we are already forgiven based on the finished work of Jesus. “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake” (I John 2:12).
Another stumbling block that I briefly addressed in our introduction a few days ago is seeing our relationship with Jesus as similar to our human experience. The human relationship is by its very nature often transactional. I hurt you. I acknowledge to you what I have done. You choose to forgive me. We confess to each other when we have sinned against our brother or sister. A distance grows between us when we fail to do these things. But our connection to Christ is NOT transactional; it is not “I confess and He forgives” in an ongoing nature. No, we have already been completely forgiven. You cannot look at our human relationships as a pattern for our new life with Jesus.
Like many things of grace, it is hard to accept a complete forgiveness because it sounds too good to be true. We have all been taught to be suspicious of something that sounds too good to be true. But this time, it is true. God’s incredible grace is just that good. But it does behoove us to ask, “Is that really so? Is Jay just on some kind of complete forgiveness soapbox? What does the Bible actually say about our sin?” Let’s look at the Scriptures behind these ideas next time.