Hurdles to Understanding Our Complete Forgiveness

Understanding the Red Letters   Part 23

So if you have been following these posts at all, you know that I believe the Bible teaches us that all of our sins are completely forgiven by the shed blood of Jesus the moment we believe the gospel.  But the church at large, at least in their practice, does not seem to share this view.  Almost every church I visit, has some form of confession and seeking forgiveness for our sins built into their worship.  Why is this so?

First is the holdover from the Catholic church that confession and forgiveness is required as an integral part of the Christian life.  I will just say it is not and go on to point two.

Second – and this is probably why number one still hangs around – is that grace and complete forgiveness is just too good to be true.  In our heart of hearts, I think most of us believe that when a sin is committed, someone has to pay.  No one gets off scot-free.  Forgiveness that lasts forever no matter what you do next is just not allowed.  We need to continue to pay for our sins by asking for forgiveness whenever we fail.

But what folks who feel this way fail to comprehend is that grace is beautifully unfair, by its very nature.  It comes to us completely free of our works.  Until you understand the beautiful unfairness of grace, you will struggle to understand your complete forgiveness in Christ.

Third, not understanding the transactional forgiveness outlined in the Lord’s prayer as old covenant confuses us.  In churches Sunday after Sunday, we repeat, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).  This sure sounds like asking God for forgiveness and that forgiving those who harm us is required to experience His forgiveness.

But keep in mind that what we know as The Sermon on the Mount is a combination of Jesus teaching Law, of Jesus teaching old covenant, of Jesus giving us glimpses of the coming new covenant.  In this case, seeking to be forgiven as we forgive is complete old covenant.  It is transactional, and transactional between us and God is at the heart of the old covenant.

The Golden Rule is another good example of this in the Sermon on the Mount, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).  Jesus identifies this as old covenant teaching with the phrase, “For this is the Law and the Prophets.”  Much of the Sermon on the Mount is old covenant and needs to be seen in that light.

Before the cross, under the old covenant, we were told to forgive to be forgiven.  After the cross, under the new covenant, we are instructed to forgive BECAUSE WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN forgiven.  Huge difference.  “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Fourth, is our misunderstanding of the audience for 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.”  This message of forgiveness and cleansing was addressed to a group of unbelievers who claimed no need for a Savior because they had no sin.  Agreeing (confessing) with God that they were sinners is the first step to believing the gospel and receiving God’s complete forgiveness.  This verse is not directed at believers.

This understanding of I John 1:9 is frequently covered in my posts.  For further study, I recommend the book, Forgiven and Cleansed, by Brad Robertson.