Forgiveness is a funny thing.
You see, as Christians we believe that when Jesus was nailed to the cross, he willingly bore the sins of the entire world—past, present, future. Transposing this into a more personal key, Christ’s gift of reconciliation covers every inch of my wrongdoing and brokenness. Nothing remains unforgiven. No wound untouched by his healing power. Everything I’ve done and will do that violates God’s will for my life completely covered.
And so when I came to faith in Christ, in that moment the Holy Spirit immediately applied this forgiveness to all of my sins. No exceptions. Not a one.
In other words, I have been forgiven. Past tense. Done.
It’s beautiful, actually. And profound beyond measure.
But it makes me ask a question, one that may sound silly but can actually lead us to a deeper appreciation and understanding of forgiveness.
Why do we need to continue asking for forgiveness? Hasn’t Christ already forgiven all my sin? Does asking for his forgiveness imply that he didn’t forgive me for everything already? Was his earlier forgiveness not sufficient?
So I think of it this way. When I sin today, the reason I confess and repent is that I need to appropriate (or make use of) the forgiveness already given. It’s not that Jesus needs to forgive me all over again; rather, I need to return to the one who has forgiven me. It’s not so that I can have Jesus forgive my newly committed sin, but so my current sin doesn’t continue as an obstacle to the relationship I have with him.
Put another way, my need for confession and forgiveness is relational, not transactional.
Or consider it this way. If Jesus had to forgive me again and again for each individual sin for me to be forgiven, what about sin I commit that I am not aware of? Because we are not consciously aware of all the ways we fail to love God and others. His forgiveness—the grace he extends from the cross—takes care of all that too.
But when we are aware of ways in which we have broken God’s commands, we confess not to elicit God’s forgiveness but to willingly and humbly receive it.
We pray for forgiveness, in other words, not to change God’s mind but to transform ours. It’s one of the key ways we invite Christ to continue renovating our hearts. And doing so also reminds us again and again of the gospel, at the heart of which is a Saviour who loves us so much that he was willing to sacrifice his life so we could enjoy the forgiveness he longs for us to know.