The title of this article may seem like a strange question. I imagine many might respond by thinking, “Of course we should”, but I would pose this question: Where in the Bible does it tell us to ask God to forgive our sins? I can’t claim to have done a totally exhaustive search, but I have done a careful search and the most and only direct statement I have found, suggesting we should ask God to forgive our sins, is in the Lord’s prayer.
In Matthew 6, Jesus models prayer for us and includes the pivotal phrase, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” While this appears to be a clear instruction to ask for forgiveness, the emphasis seems to be more on the condition of the forgiveness—that we be forgiven in proportion to our willingness to forgive others. This is emphasised by Jesus’ commentary in vv14,15 which reiterates the simple fact that forgiveness will be granted if we forgive others and withheld if we do not.
So, what am I proposing—that we simply forget about asking God for forgiveness and focus on being forgiving toward others and it will all be sorted out automatically? Certainly not, yet I think it is important for us to re-examine our attitude toward the issue of how God deals with our sins, and therefore, how we approach God with respect to our record of sin.
My awareness of this issue was brought into focus about a year ago when I was studying the book of Isaiah. There are some truly life-changing statements in this book, which should help us to understand how God deals with our sins. I don’t know why this hadn’t really gelled in my mind earlier, as I have read the Bible through numerous times; it really only matured in my thinking recently. It’s a bit like a friend of mine said, “He [God] keeps putting new things in there!”
Isaiah has often been referred to as the “gospel prophet” and I’m excited that the adult Bible study guide for the first quarter of 2021 was focused on this amazing book. It seems impossible to read this book without coming to a clear awareness of God’s incomprehensibly powerful and undying love for His people, despite their constant, and quite extreme, rebellion. Of course, Isaiah is not the only prophet who records such messages. Ezekiel, Hosea and Jeremiah also share the same concepts, but none so majestically as Isaiah, in my opinion.
I am going to focus on just two passages from Isaiah and then compare those to a couple of New Testament statements in order to help demonstrate that God’s forgiveness of our sins is not something that is negotiable. Rather, it is an established fact as declared by God Himself. Please read the rest of the article before you jump to any conclusions about what I am asserting in terms of our salvation, because I am not about to launch into a defence of universalism. The fact that God has forgiven all sin does not mean all will be saved.
In Isaiah 43:22-28, Isaiah records that the people of Israel have become weary of God, but that, in turn, they had burdened and wearied God with their sins. Verse 25 comes as a real surprise and great contrast to the actions of the “people of God”. God says, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.”
Wow! He does it for His own sake! Have you ever seen a young mum or dad bemoan the fact that their toddler comes running to them for comfort and attention when they’ve fallen over and skinned their knee? Not many would begrudgingly perform the necessary first aid and comfort in a way which caused the child to feel terrible about asking for help. Imagine how the child would feel if the parent said in a gruff tone, “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up and out of here so I can get on with more important things.” Most parents would take the child in their arms and speak words of comfort and lovingly clean and patch the wound after “kissing it better”.
This is just a tiny insight into how God responds when we harm ourselves and others by our sins. Just as a human parent feels good about being able to help their needy child, so God relishes helping His needy children. The lady who wrote to the Church captures this beautifully in the first chapter of Steps to Christ. I encourage you to read that chapter again. The final paragraph goes like this (p15):
“Such love is without a parallel. Children of the heavenly King! Precious promise! Theme for the most profound meditation! The matchless love of God for a world that did not love Him! The thought has a subduing power upon the soul and brings the mind into captivity to the will of God. The more we study the divine character in the light of the cross, the more we see mercy, tenderness and forgiveness blended with equity and justice, and the more clearly we discern innumerable evidences of a love that is infinite and a tender pity surpassing a mother’s yearning sympathy for her wayward child.”
There is more. In Isaiah 44:21-23, we read, “O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me! I have blotted out like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you. Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; Break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel.”
It’s hard to over-emphasise the significance of this passage. God is saying that He has blotted out, has redeemed and has glorified Himself. God is not glorified in Israel because of how wonderful Israel is. He is glorified in that He continues to act graciously toward her despite her waywardness. Yet these are prophetic statements, describing God’s redemptive hope for Israel after her captivity, but in this passage they are declared in the past tense as though it has already been done. This is the basis for my earlier declaration: that God’s forgiveness is an established fact. It is not based on our remorse or ability to persuade God to forgive us. God has chosen to do it and has done it for His own sake, for His own glory.
Does this mean everybody will be saved? Not by any stretch! We can respond to it in several different ways. We can say, “I don’t believe it. You can take your forgiveness and shove it . . .” We can ignore it. We can be presumptuous about it and take it for granted, or we can humbly accept it and thank God for it. Only the last response will help us because, though our sins are forgiven by God regardless of our response, it’s only when we confess our sins that we will be truly cleansed (1 John 1:9).
Our salvation isn’t so much about the forensics of what’s happened to our sins, but far more about whether we have acknowledged and confessed our sins and entered into a relationship with Jesus, choosing to submit to His will and live according to His ways.
So, I am still, after 12 months, learning to pray differently. Rather than pleading with God to forgive my sins, I choose to confess my sins, admitting I am in need of His grace. I
still think there is merit in confessing sins specifically as we are counselled by Ellen White and as is modelled by David in Psalm 51. Just like effective medicine cannot be so if it is left on the shelf, nor can God’s established forgiveness or grace help us if we don’t actively accept it.
A couple of New Testament verses which share the same concept are Romans 5:6-10 and 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. God has done it before we even knew we were in need: in our case, before we were even born or became a sinner or aware that we are sinners. Already done! Praise God! This does not negate the truth of the heavenly sanctuary. That simply explains how God has done it in further detail, but is also another discussion that we are not having here.
May God bless us as we grasp the reality of the unchangeable fact that God has forgiven us and we accept that liberating reality with humility, gratitude and joy. Our assurance in His salvation should also be an established fact.
Recently retired, Gavin Rowe spent 33 years in ministry all up and down the east coast of Australia and in Solomon Islands. His final position was senior pastor of Geelong Church, Victoria.