All the prophets testify to this: everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Acts 10:43 (ISV, emphasis added)
I don’t remember a time before I believed in God, but that doesn’t mean I was always a Christian. When I first started to hear about God, the truth is I was afraid. I was afraid that I wasn’t forgiven, and was really motivated by not wanting to pay for my sins in eternity – although I would have had little idea what that meant!
I remember going to bed at night asking God to forgive me for as much as I could remember. I’d go back through my day trying to recall every little thing I’d done wrong – likely forgetting most of it.
I was terrified that Jesus might return in the night, and that I hadn’t asked Him to forgive me for some thing or other. I’d ask over and over again, accutely aware of how bad I was. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a bad kid at all, I just felt that way when faced with the reality that there is a God who judges us.
The cycle would go on and on. I’d go about my day, make various mistakes along the way, then lay in bed at night asking God over and over to forgive me. I’d get up the next morning and do it all over again.
It was exhausting!
One day I listened to someone teaching who shared a very similar experience that they had gone through. At one time while they were repeatedly asking God to forgive them, God interrupted them to say – “I forgave you the first time you asked.”
This hit home to me.
My problem was not about asking for forgiveness, but rather about not receiving it from God
Truth be told, I had no real understanding of the cross or what Jesus had done for me. I didn’t know that God had washed me clean, and that I was a new creature in Christ. Through my ignorance of this, I just kept repeating the same request for forgiveness over and over, hoping God would be gracious enough to grant me my request.
In many ways, I was acting as though I was living under the Old Covenant as described in the Bible. I had no temple or animal sacrifice to make, but I kept coming back to the altar day after day, offering up my apologies and ever falling short of God’s glory. I was “hoping” for God’s mercy, and had no concept that it was already mine in Jesus.
Asking was not the issue; receiving was.
I don’t believe I am alone in this.
Perhaps it is not as obvious as what I am about to express, but our thought process goes something like this:
- We are conscious of a sin we have committed (how we have fallen short of God’s standards in some way)
- We ask for forgiveness
- If you ask us, then we’ll say that God has forgiven us
- We think it cannot be so easy, and so either plead our case or beat ourselves up.
- That “beating ourselves up” can last a few hours or days, depending on how serious the sin was (in our minds at least).
- Once we have “suffered” enough, or more accurately punished ourselves enough, we move on.
Does that seem in any way familiar to you?
If it does, then the Gospel really is good news for you!
The first two steps are healthy; when the Holy Spirit shows us we have sinned, it is right for us to ask God to forgive us.
Everything after that is wrong however.
If you sincerely ask God to forgive you, and put your trust in Jesus Christ, you can count on His mercy and receive your forgiveness. You don’t need to beg or plead, you can’t earn it, and all you need do is trust God.
We err when we stray into the third step and beyond.
It really is that easy! God is not making it hard for us to be forgiven. He does not put barriers in our path or frustrate us, rather He wants to forgive us far more than we want to be forgiven!
Beating ourselves up for something we have done wrong is an attempt by us to add to the cross of Christ. I’m certain we would not say that aloud, but it’s true. If we truly believed that Christ’s death at the cross was sufficient, then we would not need to add to it by punishing ourselves.
So what should we do?
He has no need to offer sacrifices every day like high priests do, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he sacrificed himself.
Hebrews 7:27 (ISV)
This verse speaks of Jesus. Firstly, He does not need to offer a sacrifice for Himself as He never once sinned against His Heavenly Father. Secondly, because He was the perfect Sacrifice, He does not need to offer Himself over and over again. Rather, Jesus did it once and for all.
When He cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” It really was.
I don’t believe that forgiveness is something you must keep refilling on. I think it is something God gives you once and it covers you for all eternity. Christ’s sacrifice was a one time event and will never be repeated. It never needs to be.
I rarely ask for forgiveness anymore, and certainly not because I get everything right! Instead, I thank God for the forgiveness He has already given me, and rejoice in that truth.
Don’t get me wrong, i’m not saying sin is not important and that we should not deal with it. Indeed we should. When the Holy Spirit reveals to us that we have fallen short in some way, we should thank Him. We confess the mistake we made, ask for His help to not do it again and thank Him for covering us in the blood of the Son.
There’s a good chance you will sin this week… same goes for me. Instead of beating yourself up and asking God over and over to forgive you, ask just once. Put your faith and trust in Christ and move on.
If you don’t, I can guarantee that you will spend more time thinking about it than God is.
For I will be merciful regarding their wrong deeds, and I will never again remember their sins.
Hebrews 8:12 (ISV)
Truly live in freedom this week. Jesus has dealt with your sins once and for all. You are clean and free! Rejoice in that truth! Don’t spend your time asking God to forgive you, instead receive the free gift He offers.
To find out more about the Gospel – good news about Jesus – check out my Resurrection Sunday blog post.