That question sounds radical, I know. But bear with me and hear me out. For all of my Christian life, when I’ve sinned I’ve asked the Lord to forgive me. And observing the landscape I know I’m not alone. How many of you do that when you sin? Lord, please forgive me. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and examining this concept against the breadth of scripture and have come to the conclusion that maybe asking forgiveness is not the best approach.
Why do I say this? Consider these verses
“In Him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to his grace, which he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7-8)
“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4)
As a believer, I am united to Christ through the Holy Spirit (cf 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27). And if I am united to him, then Ephesians indicates that in Christ is the forgiveness of sins. Meaning, the forgiveness is already there. But here’s the passage that really got me to thinking about this;
“By this [Christ doing the will of the Father and offering himself as an atoning sacrifice for sins] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all…for by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10,14)
So what this tells me is that the sacrifice that Christ made, he made for sin of all times. It is finished! Putting this together with the previous verses it communicates that forgiveness is already there in the atoning sacrifice and automatically applied and available to those united in Christ. If I have to ask for forgiveness, I’m essentially asking for something that is already there.
But there’s a problem. I sin. You sin. It throws us out of whack, fills us with shame and puts focus on the flesh. So what do we do with the forgiveness that is already there? Here’s where I think 1 John 1:9 comes into play
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”
Instead of asking for forgiveness, what I need to do is confess my sins. It is in the confession that forgiveness is applied from the sacrifice that was already made, which includes the forgiveness of sins. This is why I believe John is saying that the Father will forgive us. What I’ve realized is that if I ask for forgiveness as if it’s not already available, I’m essentially undermining the atoning sacrifice of Christ. The problem with my sin is not that I have not received forgiveness but that I am out of alignment with the forgiveness I have already received. This can have disastrous consequences if gone unattended because of the ensnaring tendencies of sin. Sin is a tough taskmaster and doesn’t care who it destroys.
Friends, this is where I think brutal honesty with God is necessary concerning our transgressions. I’m not talking about just naming sins, but looking them in the eye and identifying how they wooed you to do their bidding. There is a passivity of asking for forgiveness because it really does not force us to look at what we did only remove the shame associated with the transgression. And here’s where I think the transparent confession of sin should take us;
1) It should cause us to look at that transgression for what it is, the grievance against God. It will force us to identify with it and our complicity with it’s action. And that’s where you have to get honest. Tell God you did x or failed to do y because you are a rebel and you wanted your way. Own it. Identify with it. He knows anyway.
2) It should cause us to look at the remedy for sin. Where else to go after you’ve looked this ugly monster in the eye? The price that has already been paid, the forgiveness of sins that is there. That is what I believe repentance is – turning to Christ because of the transgressions. If not, then we’ll cower under the shame that sin produces.
3) It should cause us to remember the gospel and preach it to ourselves. Because it is in that confrontation that we’re reminded but for God’s reconciling work, there would be condemnation for these transgressions. But his grace we have received the gift of forgiveness. Will this not fuel a greater appreciation and love for the Lord?
3) It should cause us to seek help. So instead of asking for what you already have, it encourages us to ask for what we really need – help from the Holy Spirit. Because the flesh is weak and will fail. But we are risen with Christ. The Son sitting at the right hand of the Father means we can come boldly before his throne and ask for grace and help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Tell the Lord you cannot do this in your own strength.
So that is why I’m coming to the conclusion that asking for forgiveness may not be the best thing. Rather, it is alignment with the forgiveness that is already there and that comes through confession. It’s a radical concept I know. To be honest, ‘Lord please forgive me’ has been part of my vocabulary for so long that it just rolls off my lips. Hence the passivity. But I’ve been deliberate in shifting from the passivity of ‘Lord forgive me’ to the confrontation confession produces. And I’m thankful that though I fail, Christ’s sacrifice provides a lasting remedy for my transgressions.
What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear them.