On Repentance and Asking for Forgiveness

Tim White

What is the difference between repentance and asking God for forgiveness from our sins? This is an area of common confusion, particularly since some Christian denominations are not clear in their position in this and teach things that are not founded in the Word of God.

First John 1:9 is the clearest passage on repentance and forgiveness, giving us a clear picture of what God expects. It states, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

It is interesting that there is nothing in this verse that mentions asking God for forgiveness. Quite the contrary, a Greek word homologeo is used, which actually means "same word." It functionally means to agree in word with, to admit to, or to take responsibility for. In this case, it is speaking of our sins. In other words, it isn't the asking for forgiveness that is important. It's agreeing with God that we were wrong and taking responsibility for committing the wrong.

It is our nature to do one of several things to avoid responsibility for our action. We tend to make excuses, deny, minimize, or in some way justify our sins. Simply saying "I'm sorry" is just another way of avoiding the issue. This verse tells us that if we own our sins and agree with God that they were wrong for us to do, forgiveness is actualized and we are actually placed back on the right road for a strong relationship with God to grow.

Many teachers are teaching that since the spiritual economy of grace and "the abiding of Christ within us" has begun, particularly at Pentecost, the born-again believer need not ask God for forgiveness. At our salvation (being born again), all of our sins are forgiven by the redemptions of Jesus Christ. It would be foolish to ask God to do something that has already happened in us.

Sin in the believer's life does not become an issue of forgiveness but of relationship and blessings. Our disobedience hinders our ability to fellowship with God and sense His guiding hand in our lives. By agreeing with God that we have sinned when we sin, we stop the damage to our relationship with God and can then sense His guiding. We are restored into full communicative fellowship with God.

A great illustration of this is in the story we call the Prodigal Son. Luke 15:11-32 tells of two sons with the same problem but with different symptoms. Neither son appreciated his relationship with their father. One son brashly asked for his inheritance early, received it, and went to a foreign country to squander it. After losing all of his wealth and having to subsist through a job that was forbidden in his culture, he came to his senses. He saw his sins as God saw them and took responsibility for them. So grievous was his sins, all he could do was admit to his wrongs and ask for mercy.

It's interesting that his father had been watching for his wayward son to return all along so he could restore the relationship. When the wayward son returned, the boy tried to ask forgiveness, but his father interrupted him. It was enough to the father that the son realize and admit his mistakes. The full benefits of sonship were returned, although the boy had actually never legally ceased to be a son.

Image Credit: Rembrandt; "The Return of the Prodigal Son"; 1669; Public Domain

TagsBiblical-Salvation  | Biblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Theological-Beliefs

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Published 6-18-15