The subject of forgiveness is cause for huge debate in Christianity, which is ironic considering how it’s at the very center of the Christian belief. To many Christians, forgiveness of sins is the only reason Jesus came, thus it’s interesting how divided we are on the subject of how forgiven we are.
Like many others, I grew up believing that I had to ask God to forgive each and every sin I committed. Thankfully somebody taught me a trick at an early age to wait until right before I went to bed before I asked a very generalized “Forgive me for all the sins I committed today” prayer, that way I wouldn’t go to sleep without any sins that weren’t forgiven. Without that, I surely would have missed some of those sins and God would have had a growing list of sins He would have to hold against me.
What is Forgiveness?
Firstly, let’s look at what forgiveness means. As much as it’s talked about, it’s clear that many people don’t really even understand the definition. It’s one of those popular Christian words we throw around in sermons and prayers, but we don’t quite get the implications of it.
As a side note, I highly encourage you to spend a lot of time with the dictionary. You don’t necessarily have to read it like a book, but it’s a lot of fun to look up common words people use to find out what they really mean. Here’s a trick, if you have Google Chrome installed, you can click on the address bar in the browser and type “define” followed by the word you want the definition for. It will automatically bring you to the definition.
If you don’t have Google Chrome, you can do the same thing from Google.com. I do this often, even for words I assume I know the meaning of because I’ve used them for so long. Oftentimes it will give you an entirely new perspective of ideas and interpretations you’ve just taken people’s words for. As a bonus, you get to build your vocabulary and make it look like you’re really smart even though you’re a high-school drop-out!
Okay, enough about that. Let’s move on.
These definitions are from TheFreeDictionary.com, but you’re welcomed and encouraged to look up the word yourself so you don’t think I’m trying to trick you.
- 1. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.
2. To renounce anger or resentment against.
3. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).
For the sake of the argument, let’s say that people are right when they say that Jesus sacrifice wasn’t for complete forgiveness (meaning they are forgiven for past, present and future sins), and it was only to be forgiven for past sins, and to provide us with the ability to ask to be forgiven of future sins. Going by the definitions above, that would mean that until I ask, God is consciously choosing to hold my faults and offenses against me; He is consciously choosing to be angry and resentful towards me over my wrongdoing; He is consciously expecting payment from me for my sin (on top of what Christ already paid).
Remember, this is going by the accepted definition of “forgiven” in the dictionary.
That makes it clear why so many God-loving Christians have such a hard time boldly approaching God’s throne like they’re His children, because they constantly expect to run into an angry and resentful Dad who is consciously holding their sin against them. Adam and Eve had that same idea, it was a result of eating from the wrong tree–the one that brought death.
Do you think that your Father is blatantly ignoring the payment of debt that His Son made on behalf of the entire world, once for all, regarding sin? I have a hard time accepting that. Some other very influential teachers, on the other hand, love to push the idea that we are conditionally forgiven.
How Forgiven is Dr. Michael Brown’s Wife?
What inspired this post was this video by Sid Roth, featuring Dr. Michael Brown, author of the book, Hyper-Grace. It’s Q&A about Grace, but I personally don’t think Dr. Michael Brown’s answer was very graceful. I don’t mean that in an insulting way, but by the definition of grace, which means “undeserved kindness,” Dr. Brown believes that in order to be forgiven you must first ask, meaning forgiveness isn’t based on what Jesus did, it’s based on what you do.
That’s contrary to the definition of grace, which is that we get treated kindly because God is kind, not because we coerce Him into treating us good.
One of the examples Dr. Brown gives is that, because he is in a relationship with his wife, whenever he sins against her he has to ask her for forgiveness. I understand what he might be trying to say, but I think he’s confusing forgiveness with a good old fashioned apology. If he has to ask his wife in order to be forgiven, that means that until he asks, she is consciously holding that sin against her husband, and consciously choosing to be angry and resentful towards him over whatever he did to offend her.
Now, when you phrase it like that, I highly doubt Dr. Brown would say that’s what his wife is doing (it would make Mrs. Brown sound rather graceless), but whether he means to or not, that’s what he’s implying when he says he isn’t forgiven by her until she asks.
That doesn’t make for a healthy relationship. It means every time you mess up you will immediately expect that person to be angry and resentful towards you until you ask them not to be. It would make it very hard to approach that person when you expect that sort of reaction from them. In a sense, you would fear, but the Apostle John says that “there is no fear in love because fear has to do with punishment.” After awhile you start to walk on eggshells around that person because you don’t know what’s going to set them off and what isn’t.
This how a lot of Christians relate to their heavenly Father. I used to relate to both Jesus and my own dad like that. It didn’t make me want to get closer to them, it made me resist them and want to avoid them. Not because I didn’t love them, but because I was scared to experience their feelings of disappointment in me.
I don’t know Dr. Brown or his wife, or how their marriage works, but if they’re a happily married couple I doubt she’s walking around consciously holding his wrongdoing against him, and I doubt he’s holding her sin against her. If she’s not holding his wrongdoing against him, then by definition he’s already been forgiven. He might apologize and say, “I’m sorry I hurt you,” but as far as forgiveness is concerned, it’s already done. He already has it because in a healthy relationship you don’t walk around consciously angry and resentful at the person you love, even if they’ve wronged you.
“Love keeps no record of wrongs.” There is no fine print after that statement.
When Are You Forgiven?
Here’s something to think about: scripture says that the lamb (Jesus) was slain before the foundation of the world. What do Christians believe He was slain for? The forgiveness of sins. So if He died for the forgiveness of sins, and He died before the world was ever created… what does that mean? Well, it has a very intriguing implication, doesn’t it?
We have to remember that God is not contained inside this capsule of time and space that we are. There’s no such thing as “past, present, and future,” to Him. Things either are, or they aren’t.
How can that be? Because He’s exists yesterday, today, and forever, all at the same time.
Do you see?
He’s not contained within this ever-expanding box we like to call the universe, therefore He isn’t limited by it’s laws. Whether those be the laws of time and space as we see in the verses above, the laws of gravity as we see when He walked on water and ascended into the sky, or the laws of life and death, as we see in His resurrection.
Consequently, though your body resides in this box, you are hidden in Christ and seated with Him in heaven (outside of the box). You’re not actually contained by the box either, but that’s a subject for a different post!
But Christ offered only one sacrifice for sins, and that sacrifice is good for all time. Then he sat down at the right side of God. And now Christ waits there for his enemies to be put under his power. With one sacrifice Christ made his people perfect forever. They are the ones who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also tells us about this. First he says, “This is the agreement I will make with my people in the future, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts. I will write my laws in their minds.” Then he says, “I will forget their sins and never again remember the evil they have done.” And after everything is forgiven, there is no more need for a sacrifice to pay for sins.“
He offered one sacrifice, good for all time, not just past time. He did this, not because we asked for it, but because we were in need of it.
Love doesn’t wait to be offended before it forgives. Why? Because it won’t anything bring separation between it and the object of it’s affection. If I have to wait for you to ask me for forgiveness before I can forgive you, that means I’m willing to hold your sin against you until you prove to me how sorry you are and ask me to stop holding that thing against you. I’m holding a barrier between us and dangling your sin over your head and saying, “if you ever want me to let you close to me again, you first have to do this thing I require of you…”
That’s the exact opposite of grace.
If you don’t remember a person’s wrongdoing, how can you hold it against them? If you can’t hold it against them, how are they not forgiven?
You Forgive Better Than God?
People say things like, “I choose to forgive this person! I’m not going to let their behavior ruin my day!” But when it comes to God’s forgiveness they say, “He only forgives you if you ask!”
So think with me. If you have the ability to forgive people before they ask, but God doesn’t, doesn’t that mean you’re better at forgiveness than He is? Doesn’t that mean you’re more gracious and merciful than He is? He chooses not to forgive until a person asks, but you forgive before people ask.
Maybe we should be praying to you instead. 🙂
Examples of Unconditional Forgiveness in Scripture
I wrote this post on the Facebook page the other day, I think the question is worth repeating:
“How much was required of the adulteress in John 8:11 before Jesus chose to forgive her sin? She neither confessed anything or asked Him for forgiveness, yet He chose to let her off the hook.”
Without her ever confessing her sin or asking to be forgiven, Jesus says, “I do not condemn you, go and sin no more.” What does “I do not condemn you” mean? Compare with the definitions of forgiven that we saw above. It means, “I’m not holding this thing against you. I’m not angry or resentful towards you over what you did.” And then what? “Go and sin no more.” Why? Because it’s that unconditional love and the undeserved trust and kindness that empowers a person to sin no more.
The Paralyzed Man
Another example is the paralyzed man in Luke 5:20. The interesting thing with this example is, not only is the man not coming to Jesus to be forgiven (he’s coming for healing), and not only does he never ask to be forgiven, and not only does he never confess his sins, but Jesus forgives his sins because of the faith He seen in the man’s friends. This ticked a bunch of people off, because their perception for how forgiveness of sins works was like many people today: you have to do something to receive it.
They had yearly sin offerings where they would sacrifice their pets and ask God to forgive them. So when somebody came along with the nerve to not only forgive sins, but to do so without their being some kind of ritual offering or condition met, they got offended because it made all of their works look pointless.
That’s the same cause of offense over forgiveness today.
The Woman With the Perfume
What about the woman in Luke 7 who poured perfume on the feet of Jesus? Again, without her asking or confessing, He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Again, people got upset. He then goes on to say the famous line about whoever is forgiven much loves much, and whoever is forgiven little loves little. Do you notice that the forgiveness comes before the love? The kindness comes before the repentance (Romans 2:4). She loved much because she knew she had already been forgiven much. Pouring the perfume on his feet was not a request for forgiveness, but an appreciation of the forgiveness she knew Jesus already provided.
The Thief on the Cross
How about the thief on the cross? The thief makes a confession about Jesus being an innocent man, and asks Jesus to remember him when He goes into His kingdom, but he never asks for forgiveness. And even though Jesus doesn’t blatantly say, “Your sins are forgiven,” like he did with the paralyzed man and the woman with the perfume, by definition, He forgives the man by choosing not to hold his sin against him.
The Murderers of God
Perhaps the most famous example of this is when Jesus was on the cross. They have shown Him no mercy or remorse for what they’ve done. They’ve stripped his clothes and gambled for the pieces, and while they’re in the middle of mocking Him and saying, “If you’re really the Son of God, take yourself down from there,” how does He reply?
Are you kidding? They didn’t ask for His forgiveness. They probably weren’t even aware that they needed it, nor did they want it from this blasphemer and heretic! Yet, the same man who said, “if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father” forgave the people who were killing Him, without them ever meeting the conditions we put on forgiveness today.
“Hyper-Grace”? I’d say that’s a pretty accurate label for how Jesus treated people.
So is Asking to Be Forgiven “Wrong”?
Can you ask to be forgiven? If you want! But why is it necessary to be forgiven over something that’s already been forgiven?
If I do or say something stupid, of course I say “sorry” to the person I’ve hurt. But if they’ve already forgiven me, I don’t need to ask them to forgive me. Instead I thank them for their grace and kindness in the forgiveness I already have.
That may sound like semantics, but it’s actually a big deal. It changes your entire perspective and the way you relate to God. It’s a huge difference from, “I’m so sorry! I’m so unworthy! I can’t do anything right! Please don’t hold that against me!” focusing on yourself and your sin, instead of focusing on Him and the love He has for you. Instead of approaching Him like a worm in fear of being crushed, you can approach Him confidently, thankful to be a son.
“Wow! Other people would hold that over my head, but you don’t!”
Asking for forgiveness isn’t “wrong” per se, but it isn’t necessary. More than that it teaches you to stay conscious of your sin instead of conscious of His grace and forgiveness.
If He’s not remembering your sin, why are you?
Your sins–past, present and future–are forgiven (which includes being forgotten). You aren’t forgiven because you did anything to earn it, but because He did. He’s not holding your sins against you, not even the ones you don’t ask Him to forgive. If anyone would say different, I have one question: where did Jesus ever do that?
Just because there are some pastors and priests that require people to earn forgiveness by groveling at their feet, shedding tears, and showing how sorry they are (according to their personal opinion of what “sorry” looks like), that doesn’t mean God requires that same thing.
Who is Forgiven?
Is forgiveness only a Christian thing? Do you have to say a special prayer and get a special membership to a special church before God can forgive you? Let’s look at the book.
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s sins against them.”
2 Cor. 5:19
He wasn’t only reconciling Christians to Himself and not counting their sins against them, but the entire world (or as some really crazy hyper-grace preachers like John Crowder like to emphasize, “the cosmos,” which means the entire creation).
To further the point, John (The Apostle, not the Crowder) says,
He is compensation for the trespasses of the entire world, not only Christians.
When He said “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they’re forgiven. If you don’t forgive their sins, they’re not forgiven.” That was a gigantic grace invitation from God, saying, “FORGIVE EVERYONE’S SINS!”
How do I know? Because when Peter was looking for any way to get out of forgiving his brothers and sisters, asking Jesus, “I only have to forgive people seven times, right?” Jesus said, “Not seven times; seventy times seven,” which, if you’re thinking like Peter, equals 490.
So according to scripture you’re only required to forgive people 490 times? No! The point is that because it’s love, and love keeps no record of wrongs, you’re don’t walk around with a tally board trying to keep track of how many wrongs you’ve forgiven. You’re not anxiously counting up to 490 so you can shout “Aha! I don’t have to forgive you anymore!”
What’s even better? Jesus said, “forgive them seventy times seven,” not “seventy times seven (but only if they ask).”
You can rest assured, your sins, past, present and future, are already forgiven. Not because you ask, but because God is love, and love, by His own choice, keeps no record of wrongs. That shouldn’t inspire you to want to go out and sin, but to go out and live sin free, loving others as Christ has loved you. When you accept the fact that you’ve been forgiven much, you won’t be able to contain the much love that will want to explode from your chest.
If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, I’ve compiled a list of articles from some friends. They go a little bit deeper into this topic.