WHY DO CHRISTIANS PRAY FOR FORGIVENESS?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 8:37am
SHOULD CHRISTIANS PRAY FOR FORGIVENESS?
AN INQUIRER WRITES: “We are studying prayer in our small group. I remember a conversation that came up in one of our classes in Bible college. Since Jesus has already died for our sins, do we ask for forgiveness in a prayer, or do we simply just thank God for having already forgiven us of our sins? Do we make a request or just say ‘Thank you’?”
MY REPLY: First, you would not say it this way: “Since Jesus has already died for our sins, do we ask etc.?” You would say it thus: “Since by God’s grace we have already been justified through our faith in Jesus (i.e., since we have already received the gift of forgiveness), do we ask etc.?” The crucial point is not exactly that Jesus has already died for our sins, but that we have already received the benefit of that death in our baptism.
Second, we do continue in that state of forgiveness 24/7 by continuing to acknowledge our need for it and by continuing to trust in his saving death for us. We do not lose that forgiveness simply by committing a sin or sins (see below); we lose it by giving up our faith in him.
Third, it is more precise to thank God for his ongoing gift of forgiveness than to ask him for the gift. Acts 22:16 teaches that the sinner accepting Jesus for the first time should enter baptism praying for God to bestow the gift of forgiveness. Ananias exhorts Saul of Tarsus (later Paul the Apostle) thus: “Having arisen, and having called upon His name, get yourself baptized and wash away your sins.” This is the literal translation. “Washing away sins” in this context is the same as forgiveness. “Calling on his name” (see Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21) is a prayer for forgiveness.
Fourth, it is perfectly appropriate to pray that God will CONTINUE to apply the atoning blood of Christ to us. Such a prayer is an ongoing acknowledgement of our sin and of our continuous need for forgiveness.
Fifth, a large element of this last prayer is praying that God would strengthen us to KEEP OUR FAITH IN CHRIST STRONG, since our faith is what keeps us in the forgiven state.
Sixth, we do not lose our salvation each time we sin, thus do not need to utter a new prayer for forgiveness of that specific sin in order to be restored to the saved state. First John 1:9 is not talking about the confession of a specific sin in order to be forgiven again; it is talking about the ongoing confession THAT we are sinners as a condition for STAYING forgiven. (This is like an ongoing state of repentance.) This is in contrast with the person in 1 John 1:8,10, who DENIES THAT he is a sinner. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, the Pharisee is the person in 1 John 1 8, 10; the tax-collector is the person in 1 John 1:9.