If We Confess Our Sins
- Wednesday, September 17, 2003
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness - 1 John 1:9.
That is one of the first verses many new Christians memorize-and rightly so. It holds forth the comforting promise of forgiveness and cleansing for all of us who have struggled with guilt in this sin-stained world. Yet there are some today who, because they fail to comprehend the extent of divine forgiveness, deny the clear teaching of 1 John 1:9 and teach other to do the same. They say that to pray for forgiveness reveals unbelief. After all, a healthy Christian doesn't experience guilt because he understands Christ's total forgiveness. Why seek forgiveness when you already have it?
However, their guilt-free brand of Christianity not only burdens guilty people with more guilt, but also strips away the only means to alleviate the guilt of sin-confession. Rather than helping Christians draw near to God, they are reinforcing the barrier of sin that interrupts their relationship with God. But that's not the end of the story.The Bible clearly teaches that Christians should seek forgiveness.
In each one of the penitential psalms (Pss. 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143), the psalmist is demonstrating the heart of a justified believer when he seeks forgiveness. In each case the psalmist is already a believer, fully forgiven.
In the gospels, Christ taught believers to ask the Father to forgive their sins (Matt. 6:12; Mark 11:25; Luke 11:4). Some of those to whom He spoke were already born again.
In 1 John 1, the verb tenses show that confession and forgiveness should be a continuous experience. Verse 7 literally reads, "The blood of Jesus His Son keeps cleansingus from all sin," and verse 9 likewise says, "If we are continually confessing our sins." Those to whom John wrote were already fully forgiven believers (cf. 5:13).
But the question remains: Why are you supposed to seek God's forgiveness if He has already justified you? If justification takes care of sin past, present, and future, so there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1), why pray for forgiveness? Aren't you praying for something that is already yours?
The answer is that divine forgiveness has two aspects. One is the judicial forgiveness God grants as Judge. It's the forgiveness God purchased for you by Christ's atonement for your sin. That kind of forgiveness frees you from any threat of eternal condemnation. It is the forgiveness of justification. Such pardon is immediately complete-you'll never need to seek it again.
The other is a parental forgiveness God grants as your Father. He is grieved when His children sin. The forgiveness of justification takes care of judicial guilt, but it does not nullify His fatherly displeasure over your sin. He chastens those whom He loves, for their good (Heb. 12:5-11).Let me show you the difference:
- Judicial forgiveness deals with sin's penalty-parental forgiveness deals with sin's consequences.
Judicial forgiveness frees us from the condemnation of the righteous, omniscient Judge whom we have wronged-parental forgiveness sets things right with a grieving and displeased but loving Father.
Judicial forgiveness provides an unshakeable standing before the throne of divine judgment-parental forgiveness deals with the state of our sanctification at any given moment and is dispensed from a throne of divine grace.
So the forgiveness Christians are supposed to seek in their daily walk is not pardon from an angry Judge, but mercy from a grieved Father.
Some object to the idea that God could ever be displeased with His own children. They ask: Can our once-and-for-all forgiven sins ever provoke divine displeasure? The answer is a resounding "Yes." In fact, it is because of God's righteous displeasure over your sin that He refuses to leave you the way you are-sinful.
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