Quit Asking for Forgiveness

“The glorious reality of justification means that I never again have to ask God for forgiveness!”

The words had scarcely escaped my lips when I saw eyebrows raise, heads turn nervously to glance at neighbors, and more than a few folks become fidgety. Following both Sunday worship gatherings a short line formed to pepper me with queries surrounding this statement. The doctrinal declaration has surfaced in home groups this week, and emails have flittered across my desktop. So, I’ll clarify my statement but not only to settle the whirring minds, but also because an understanding of this truth brings comfort and security in Jesus which overflows into adoration and proclamation of Him.

The confusion between positional realities and practical outworking has led to doctrinal distortions and imbalance in modern Christianity. Understanding the difference between “who I am in Jesus” (Eph. 1-3) and “how I should live in Jesus” (Eph. 4-6) is paramount to my journey as a follower of Christ. A concept of the first without a commitment of the latter will lead to lifeless orthodoxy (head without heart) or antinomian tendencies (abuse and neglect of God’s commandments); while a devotion to the latter and neglect of the former will lead to at best spiritual instability and at worst heretical compromise. We must be people who walk in joyful, practical holiness for Jesus as we understand our miraculous, positional holiness in Jesus.

With these truths in view, we roll forward now to understand the scandalous declaration above: “justification makes it so that we never again need ask God for forgiveness!” To grasp the weight of what I am attempting to communicate we need a Biblical definition of forgiveness. The Greek word for “forgive” literally means to pardon. It carries the idea of absorbing a debt owed so as to gaze favorably upon the debtor. We understand this even in our culture as we function today. Imagine one of my friends, while backing their vehicle out of my driveway, runs over my mailbox. I come out of my home to find my friend profusely apologizing. In order to remedy the situation either he must carry the debt – purchasing and installing a new mailbox – or I must forgive him, which means that I absorb the debt and replace my mailbox with my own time and money. Either way, for the damage to be made right, someone has to absorb the debt.

Throughout our journey in Romans we have unpacked the beauty of the doctrine of justification. Justification is a judicial term that literally means “to be declared righteous” (Rom. 3:21-26). This means that in justification, God chose to pardon the massive debt of sin we owed Him, by willing His Son to absorb that debt (2 Cor. 5:21). Payment for the infinite crimes that we had committed against the infinite God had to be made in order for our fractured souls to be graciously healed. On the cross, Jesus Christ took every sin of all His people upon His shoulders, absorbed the penalty for His people, and paid the debt that was owed. By His payment of our penalty, we – the people for whom He died – are declared “not guilty;” and by the transfer of His perfection to our account we are deemed positionally perfect (Col. 1:19-23). Therefore, at the moment of justification you and I are judicially pardoned in the Divine court of law of all trespasses past, present, and future. As Hebrews 10:14 declares: For by one sacrifice (a single offered) He has perfected for all time those being sanctified. No longer does God – or will God – see our sin and condemn us (Rom. 8:1); rather He will forever see the righteous blood of His Son covering our souls and He will declare us pardoned (Eph. 1:7). This is why I can unabashedly declare that “at justification we are forever forgiven of all sin and therefore need never ask again for the forgiveness we already posses by grace.”

However, while God does not hold the debt of our sin against us positionally, He does call us to confess and forsake our sin practically. “Confess” in the Greek means “to say the same as God” (about our sin), and “to forsake” is bound up in the word “repent,” which means “to change.” Think of it this way: I blow up at my wife, Danielle. In anger, I say hurtful things and storm out of the room. While my sin in that moment does not alter my position as her husband or diminish her love for me (if our marriage is healthy), it does, without a doubt, wound the heart of my wife and negatively affect every practical aspect of our marriage. In the same vein, by grace we are called sons and daughters of God and nothing, including our sin, can separate us from His covenant, familial love (Rom. 8:33-39). However, while our sin does not rip us from God’s favor, it does grieve His Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and fracture fellowship (or whatever you want to call relational intimacy) with Him. Confessional repentance does not restore positional favor (for it was never lost), but it does restore intimate fellowship. Therefore, we who have been pardoned positionally should be deeply repentant practically.

These truths are critically important to espouse and embrace. Failure to do so will result in guilt-laden fear and the blasphemous grind of meritorious living. However, to espouse and embrace positional pardon and continued confession produces peace in the promise of justification and joy in the pursuit of sanctification. My hope is that we will be people who celebrate His unforfeited favor and walk with Him in daily intimacy.

Semper Reformanda.

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