I have a confession to make. For a period of my life, I struggled as a Christian to truly ask God for forgiveness. I'm not talking about the steps that we all must take in order to become a Christian (Rom. 3:23; Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21). I'm talking about struggling with the idea of forgiveness after I had become a Christian. I still recall the time I realized I had never really asked for forgiveness. I had spent years struggling with various sins. After a while, I realized that while I kept praying to God and asking for forgiveness (Acts 8:22), I wasn't truly asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness requires: 1) You ask God to remember your sins no more and 2) turn away from sin and no longer be involved with it. My problem was that I had no intention of doing this last part.
What did I mean when I prayed to God and asked Him to forgive me? I had said, "Please, forgive me," but I meant, "Please, Lord, give me time and I'll prove to you I'm not as bad as that sin I committed yesterday." Then I spent my time making offerings I hoped would make up or atone for my sins. I hoped I would "go to church" enough to prove I wasn't so bad and really should get to go to Heaven. I was doing it all wrong! This guilt that I kept building up for myself was driving me to commit further sin because I didn't really believe I could ever be forgiven. I remember exactly when this realization hit me. I was studying to teach a class on Hebrews and came across Hebrews 10:17-18. It reads, "'I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.' Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin." Herein lied the second half of my problem. I didn't believe that praying to God for forgiveness was really working.
I remember reading Hebrews 10:17-18 and it hitting me like a nail driven between my eyes. What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is God casting my sin away from me (Isa. 38:17). Forgiveness is God actively choosing not to recall my sin to His mind (Isa. 43:25). Forgiveness is having my sin removed based completely on God's mercy and grace and not upon my deserving it. Forgiveness is having my sin taken away because I could not make an offering that is sufficient. Christ had done it (Heb. 7:27). Yet, that is exactly what I had been doing; I had been "going to church," as offerings for my sins. My thinking was in reverse! I wasn't serving God because I was amazed that I had been forgiven. I wasn't worshipping Him to show my thanks, love, and devotion to the One who had forgiven me. Instead, I was "going to church" in hopes to someday get forgiveness. When it came down to temptation (Jas. 1:14-15), I didn't really see the harm in sinning further because I believed I could never be forgiven of my sin in the first place.
Eventually I came face to face with a problem. I realized my way of doing things just wasn't true. It couldn't work. I couldn't prove myself better than my sins. No amount of good deeds, worship, preaching, converting others, or good deeds would ever make up for my sins. I was facing exactly what James was talking about in James 2. I had somehow fooled myself into thinking that I could work enough to earn my salvation (Lk. 17:10; Titus 3:5). This was not true and I finally had to admit it. I didn't need God's patience to wait for me to prove myself. Rather, I needed His forgiveness. Today, I write this article, not to prove myself worthy, but because I'm amazed and thankful. I'm forgiven. I don't have to offer anything to "prove" I am "worthy" of forgiveness. I don't need to somehow "prove" that I am worthy of going to Heaven, because that is impossible. I just need to accept the forgiveness He has given. Now I can serve Him and praise Him because He deserves it and He has offered me salvation!
It is certainly a hard balance to strike between recognizing that we never deserve God's forgiveness, turning from our sin and living in it no more, and to be willing to forgive ourselves (Lk. 17:10). While we have studied at length about learning to accept God's forgiveness, please don't take man's responsibility lightly. We can only receive forgiveness as Christians if we repent of our sins and turn away from them (2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 17:30). How about you? Have you been forgiven of your sins? If you have become a Christian (Mk. 16:16), but have walked away from God, you can only get forgiveness if you repent and do as God commands. Have you ever actually asked for forgiveness, repented, and turned from your sins (Acts 8:22; 1 Pet. 3:21; 1 Jn. 1:9)?
By Joel Raulerson
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