Can a Christian be forgiven of sin committed after he or she first comes to Christ? The answer may seem obvious to you and me. However, there was a time early on in the history of the Church when converts would put off baptism until they were on their death bed. Their thought was that they could not be forgiven after baptism. Thus, the concluded it is important to be baptized as late in life as possible. The argument could be made that the sacrament of reconciliation (involving confession and absolution) in the Catholic Church evolved in response to this trend in the Church. By the sacrament of reconciliation Christians were given an opportunity, after baptism, to be forgiven of sin.
I will make no comment on this sacrament within the Catholic Church. However, there is clear biblical support for the idea of Christians confessing sin, repenting of sin, and receiving forgiveness from God. The Lord's Prayer demands this. Jesus gave this prayer as a model for all disciples to follow. It is clearly a prayer that believers address to God as Father. Jesus teaches us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." (Matthew 6:12)
However, here is a valid question: how can the Scriptural requirement for Christians to confess sin be reconciled with the teaching that at the moment of conversion we are forgiven of sin once for all and God "remembers our sin no more"?
One way to resolve this seeming contradiction is to recognize that God deals with human beings both as Judge and Father. Because of the sin of the first human beings, we are born into this world relating to God as Judge. We continue to have God as our judge because of our own sin. However, the moment we come to faith in Jesus, we are forgiven, judicially, of all our sin, once and for all. The Lord makes a legal declaration; we call it justification. God declares we are not guilty of our sin because of our faith in the shed blood of Jesus. Once that declaration happens, we can be accepted into God's family and we begin to relate to God as Father.
The problem is that even as children of our heavenly Father, we continue to sin in this life. Every time we do this, sin breaks our fellowship with God. Our sin, as Christians, does not change our legal standing before God, we are still God's children, but it does mar our relationship with God as Father. Therefore, even as believers in Jesus, we must come to the Lord on a regular basis to confess our sin to him. We are instructed to do just that in 1 John 1:9. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
This coming week, we will remember on Maundy Thursday Jesus' last Passover supper with his disciples. At that meal, Jesus washed his disciples' feet. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Simon objected to having Jesus perform such a menial task. Jesus responded to Peter and said, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Peter then consented to have Jesus wash his feet. Furthermore, Peter insisted that Jesus should wash his hands and head as well. Jesus again responded to Peter, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean."
Judicial forgiveness is like that total bath; it cleanses us once and for all of moral filth in our legal standing before God. Parental forgiveness is like the washing of our feet; it is something we need Jesus to do for us on a daily basis as we walk the road of life, as we continue to stumble and fall, and as our feet get dusty with sin.
I say this because as Christians it is possible for us to have one of two attitudes. It is easy for some of us to tune out the message of forgiveness as though it is something we do not need to hear anymore. But this is wrong. Though we have been forgiven once and for all judicially, we still need to be forgiven parentally on a daily basis.
The other attitude Christians are sometimes tempted to have is that of hopelessness. Some Christians feel overwhelmingly awful when they sin and conclude there is no hope for them. This too is a wrong attitude to have. There is hope for everyone and anyone who will humble themselves, come to Jesus, confess, and repent.
Tomorrow we will begin to look at the steps involved in receiving forgiveness....