Forgiveness

I was talking to my brother-in-law today about whether people who commit suicide go to heaven (if they are saved). This conversation made me think back to conversations I have had in the past, as recent as high school, about this very subject. Now a-days I am confident in my answers to this question, but looking back at the way I used to answer this, and the questions people asked saddened me. It’s amazing how many people make this argument: “how can they go to heaven? If they commit suicide they are unable to pray for forgiveness!” This portrays a fundamentally flawed idea of forgiveness, it is as if they say; “I am only forgiven after I confess my specific sin, and ask for it to be forgiven.” I remember when I was younger being terrified by the thought; “if I forget to ask for forgiveness for one sin, if I miss it, I will not enter into heaven because I will not be forgiven.” This betrays an understanding of God’s intolerance for sin, but a profoundly sad understanding of forgiveness. My younger self rightly understood that God cannot tolerate sin in the slightest; whether it be a single lie or a mass murder. But I jumped to the conclusion that I am forgiven only after I had confessed a sin and prayed for it to be forgiven. What a terrifying thought , and how wrong. Our finite minds are unable to keep track of all the sins we commit, could we really be sure that we have confessed every one? In ancient Israel Rabbi’s classified sins in two ways; sins of omission, and commission. I am aware of those sins I commit, but for the sins of not doing something I am supposed to, equally convicting as those of commission; am I aware of every time I omit something? As evangelical Christians we understand that the Bible teaches what we call “Justification by faith.” That is, we are not constantly being forgiven; upon salvation we are “justified.” This is a legal term that describes God’s action of legally declaring us righteous, that is; no longer guilty. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, paying the penalty of our sins in our place (what we would understand as Penal Substitutionary Atonement), God no longer views us as sinners, but saints. Scripture instructs us to pray to God”forgive us our debits”[debits being our sins, as seen as a moral debit](as part of the Lord’s model prayer for us in Matthew 6:12), to confess to our brothers (James 5:16), and most importantly confess our sins before God (John 1:9). Now, we do not do these things to attain legal forgiveness for our sins, for we receive this the moment we are saved when we are Justified; but we do this because we are human, and we still sin, we have been legally declared righteous but as sinful humans we are still going to sin and God has commanded us to come to Him and confess our sins. From the moment of birth we are legally guilty and deserving of eternal damnation (inherited sin), and we are legally guilty until we put our faith in Jesus Christ and are Justified. Now our sins are forgiven from their eternal consequences, but sins have further consequences, and as Christians these still apply. We face the temporal consequences of our sins, e.g. if I commit adultery I will face the trouble in my relationship and possible divorce (un-chastity is the one Scriptural allowance for divorce [Matt 5:32]); and when we sin this disrupts our relationship with God. He does not cease to love us, for this is unconditional, but He does become displeased with us. In Eph. 4:30 Paul tells us that our sins can “grieve the Holy Spirit of God”, our sins cause Him sorrow and He will be displeased with us (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 505). This is where confessing our sins after conversion comes in. In the Westminster Confession of Faith it was written, concerning Christians (Chap. 11, sec 5.);

          Although they never can fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.

Our confession of sins for forgiveness is commanded in scripture, and is vital for our continuing relationship with God. It is sad to see many today who believe that we are only forgiven (legally) when they pray for forgiveness for each committed sin, but it is also sad to see those today who go to the opposite end of the spectrum and do not see necessity in confessing to God and asking for forgiveness. We need to be careful in our lives to avoid both of these sides: we, as believers, are legally declared righteous, and as such can be confident of the outcome when we face the judgement seat of Christ; but we are to continuing in confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness (as per Matthew 6:12, and John 1:9), for LORD is displeased, as a Father, with our sins.

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