Clearly, Christ paid for all of our sins on the Cross:
- “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Hebrews 8:12 quoting Jeremiah 31:34)
- By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14)
- Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)
On top of this, our Savior has utterly removed our sins from us:
- Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)
If this is so, why then do we still need to confess our sins?
- If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
- And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:15-16)
Hasn’t our Savior completely eradicated our sins and promised to “remember” them “no more?” Why then the ongoing requirement to confess?
Not only is confession necessary for healing, it is also necessary for forgiveness! But hasn’t forgiveness already been accomplished? If so, why then do we need to continue to confess in order to receive His forgiveness? How can we reconcile these paradoxical teachings?
This seems to be the most biblical answer: God has entirely forgiven us and has irrevocably written our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. However, He must complete the process through the entirety of our lives (Phil. 1:6; Romans 11:29).
Martin Luther affirmed the vital and ongoing role of confession and forgiveness in this process:
- Unless God constantly forgives, we are lost. Thus this petition really means that God does not wish to regard our sins and punish us as we daily deserve but to deal graciously with us, to forgive as he has promised, and thus to grant us a joyful and cheerful conscience so that we may stand before him in prayer.
This agrees with my own experience. When I confess my sins, I know that He has forgiven them and feel unburdened and relieved. But why should this be if He has already resolved my sin problem?
He has resolved it, but He continues to apply His forgiveness as we confess! He will remember our sins “no more” because He is constantly at work applying what He has accomplished at the Cross to our stained lives.
It is also because our Lord is continually at work in our lives that we continue in faith unto salvation. In God’s mind, all of these blessings are done-deals, but they must be worked out, and this includes our participation.
Do we have to continue in faith, repentance, and confession? Yes! We have to remain faithful to the end:
· All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22)
· But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col. 1:22-23)
· We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Hebrews 3:14)
Some reject this simple and direct teaching because it seems like it adds to us a work or requirement, which contradicts salvation-as-a-gift and will enable us to boast. However, continuing in faith, repentance, and confession is part of the guaranteed gift of God. The gift of faith is an ever-flowing fountain bringing us to eternal life (John 4:14; 1 Peter 1:5). However, even though salvation is a gift, we too have our role to play:
- Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)
Paul claimed that even though salvation is God’s doing, it is also ours. However, God gets the credit for even our obedience:
- But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Paul credited God for even his strenuous labors. Why? Weren’t these labors a matter of Paul’s initiative and effort? Yes and no! They did represent Paul’s efforts, but Paul recognized that God was even responsible for His efforts and initiative. So He gets all the credit.
Do we understand this? I don’t! We have a fancy theological name we attach to it. We call this the doctrine of compatibilism. Somehow, our contributions are compatible with God’s plan and sovereign workings in our lives. How???
Although I don’t understand this, the compatibility of God’s sovereignty with our responsibilities is mirrored throughout Scripture. For example, we have been saved, but we are being saved as we cooperate with God (Hebrews 4:11; 6:10-11; 1 Tim. 4:16). This paradox is something we just need to accept. We make responsible, free, and weighty choices, but at the end of the day, God’s will is done.
Let’s now apply all of this to the issue at hand – confession and forgiveness. Must we confess our sins? Definitely! Nevertheless, our forgiveness is assured (Jeremiah 31:34)! How? God has assured it:
- No one who is born of God will continue to sin [and also not confess], because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9; 5:18)
Our Savior will not allow us to go in the wrong direction. He will lead us into confession so that He can complete His work of forgiving our sins and cleansing us.
Let’s bring this lesson back to Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness:
- For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Here’s what is clear about this teaching:
- Our forgiving others is inseparable from God forgiving us.
- Our refusal to forgive others, God will not forgive us.
Must we forgive others to be saved? Yes! This is related to the issue of whether we must continue in faith. We must! But is our salvation uncertain? No! It is guaranteed by the God who promised to keep us. But how? Our Savior will work in our heart to produce the necessary requirements, including forgiveness (Phil. 2:12-13; Eph. 2:10).
Besides, a living faith will produce obedience. If I trust in my doctor, I will take the pills she prescribes. If I trust in God, I will do what He wants me to do.
We demonstrate our faith through obedience. This is why James could say:
- But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:18)
A real faith will lead to obedience and the forgiveness of others. If we refuse to forgive, it means that we refuse to trust our Lord. It also means that we have failed to grasp the Gospel and to realize how badly we need forgiveness.
Scripture informs us that God not only guarantees our salvation but also guarantees that He will keep us through the entire process:
- Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)