Earning forgiveness

I sinned last night. Not surprising; I sin all the time. There’s a standard pattern that plays out after I sin as well. I feel bad. I resolve to not sin any more. I ask God for forgiveness. I take steps to make sure I won’t sin again. And then, of course, I do. I sin again. The same sin. Once again. And now I’m feeling even worse. I mean, Christ died for that sin, and here I am abusing the blood of Jesus Christ. God must be really disappointed in me. I resolve to try even harder not to sin the next time. And then I do. I’m such a despicable person. I mean, I claim to love and follow Jesus with all my heart, and I claim to be free from the power of sin through my salvation in Christ Jesus. Yet I continue to sin, again and again.

All this sets up a pattern in my life where somehow I feel I need to earn my forgiveness. I mean in life, you can’t just go up to someone you have offended and expect them to forgive you on the spot. Especially if you have offended them multiple times in the same way. You have to change. You have to stop doing that offensive thing that you do. But you try to stop. And you fail. And you fail again. Trying harder doesn’t seem to work, and the guilt just keeps increasing. Is there a solution?

Romans 7:24-8:1 has a promising solution: “Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Deliverance from sin comes not through our efforts and actions but through Jesus Christ. How does this work? Well, we should know that we can’t overcome sin. We were born dead in sin, slaves to sin, controlled by sin. The only way we receive deliverance from this death is through Jesus Christ. Most of us understand this point as it relates to our salvation. However, we often forge this point as it relates to our sanctification, or the purification process that takes place after salvation.

Most people agree that Christians should gradually grow and mature and sin less as their spiritual life progresses. However, for many of us, we believe this process is something we initiate, we empower, we guide (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course). This contradicts Biblical teaching! It is God who began a good work in us and will continue to perfect us until the day of Jesus Christ, and it is He who is at work in us to do according to His good pleasure. When we commit our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and accept His offer of forgiveness from sin, restoration of our relationship to God, and salvation from eternal death, He not only gives us these things but also begins a lifelong purification process. We continue to sin along the way, but despite our fallen nature, Christ’s plan will prevail, and He will complete the work He began.

Since He knew we would sin, He reminded us to freely confess our sins and receive His forgiveness. He promised He would be both faithful and just to forgive our sins every time. What we often forget is that Christ’s death already earned our forgiveness. As His children, we have already been forgiven. We simply have to claim it. We understand this principle when it comes to salvation, but in the daily process of confession and forgiveness, Satan leads us astray through guilt motivated works trying to earn God’s forgiveness. We simply need to confess our sins, and then joyfully embrace the forgiveness so freely offered in Christ.

In no way does this give us license to sin, in fact, Paul vehemently denied this (Romans 6:1-2). We should strive each day to live in a way that pleases the Lord, but we shouldn’t be striving to atone for past sins. This negates the power of the blood of Christ, for it is only Jesus Christ who can atone for sin and offer forgiveness. This beautifully drives us back to the cross each day as we seek forgiveness and seek to press on for the glory of God.

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3 thoughts on “Earning forgiveness

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  1. “We understand this principle when it comes to salvation, but in the daily process of confession and forgiveness, Satan leads us astray through guilt motivated works trying to earn God’s forgiveness.”
    This is so true. Hebrews 10:22 says to draw near to Jesus “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience…” Guilt it something provided in our lives by Satan and helps us forget the significance of God’s grace. I still struggle with guilt sometimes…

    Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” James 5:16 says, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” These two verses have helped me a tremendous amount with any pangs of guilt I might have had this past half-year. We cannot detach ourselves from guilt itself by our own human will. Instead, it is the very Spirit of Christ that places grace in the place of guilt to allow us to live freely in God’s presence without experiencing the shame of our naked depravity. When we come together to confess the sins of our lives, we do not huddle together as sinners caught in a web of guilt. Instead, we come together before God to thank Him for His forgiveness, exhort to one another the incomparable grace of Christ working in our lives, and hold fast to the faith we have in Christ’s ultimate and complete sacrifice for our sins. True redemption can only be expressed when we realize our guilt does nothing but keep us away from fully understanding God’s grace.

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