When asked “What’s Jesus done for you?” many Christians quickly answer, “He died on the cross to forgive my sins.”
But if we honestly believe that answer – that Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins – why do so many of us still pray daily for God’s forgiveness? Forgiveness has already happened, and that idea is as plainly and clearly presented as any in the Bible. Over and over (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 7:27, 10:2, Jude 1:3, etc.) the New Testament instructs us that Jesus died “once for all” – for all mankind, for the forgiveness of all sin, and for the restoration of all creation.
My e-mail pen pal Bob recently opined that asking Jesus for forgiveness again and again is akin to asking Jesus to go to the cross again and again. Jesus has been there, done that, and is sitting in Heaven with the scars to prove it. We’re forgiven, already, not by our request, but by God’s grace and Jesus on the cross.
In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly offers forgiveness (Matthew 9:2), claims the authority to forgive (Matthew 9:6), and commands us to forgive (Matthew 18:35).
But humanity asking “for forgiveness” is not something Jesus ever mentions. Nor is it something mankind ever thought of asking for. The Jews of Jesus’ time believed their divine deliverer would provide spectacular, triumphant, and righteous military power, not humble, servant-hearted, and righteous forgiveness of sinners.
Jesus tells us to pray, repent, be baptized, and follow him (Mark 1). For our salvation, we are to love God, trust Jesus, rely on the Holy Spirit, and both love and forgive our neighbor. But from the cross, our forgiveness through Christ is eternal and ongoing – a “done deal.” Continuing to ask Jesus “for forgiveness” seems ungracious, tantamount to doubting His word, His promise, His authority, His power, His love.
But still … we sin, feel guilty, and reflexively pray for forgiveness. Isn’t it far better to recognize and repent of sin, and then – with faith and perseverance – strengthen our relationship with the one risen Lord? We do that by building, growing, learning, nurturing and trusting in Jesus Christ: that He is who He says He is, has done what He says He has done, and will do what He has promised to do.
My teacher George recently remarked that many Christians are addicted to praying for forgiveness. I’d never heard it put quite like that. Certainly, prayer is good, but our prayers should reflect our total trust in the grace of Christ Jesus.
For what is grace if not forgiveness?