Why do people need to receive the gift of forgiveness if the whole world is already forgiven?

A friend of mine recently asked me some questions about forgiveness. If God forgave everyone at the cross, what use will sinners have for Jesus? Why will they care about the good news if there is no bad news? And aren’t we giving sinners a false sense of all-is-well by saying “all are forgiven”?

His concern was that if we go around proclaiming forgiveness as a done deal, as I have done, some sinners are going to respond with “Meh.” They will not be motivated to do anything. That is certainly a possibility. Tell a sinner he’s forgiven – that the grace of God has been revealed at the cross – and you risk casting your pearls before swine. You risk indifference and apathy. But that doesn’t change the truth of the gospel, merely the way we present it.

You need to understand that there is a huge difference between what God has done and how we respond to what God has done and that difference is the difference between life and death. Allow me to illustrate:

Let’s say that I do something truly wicked to you. Maybe I run over your cat or spread malicious lies about you. However, out of the goodness of your heart you decide to forgive me. I don’t deserve this – your act of forgiveness is entirely based on your gracious character.

Now if I continue to act wickedly towards you, then your forgiveness of me has no effect in my life. From your side there may be no offense – all is forgiven – but from my side I am the same cat-killing, gossip-spreading sinner I always was.

Or perhaps I feel bad about what I did but I can’t forgive myself for doing it. I did such awful things! What is the solution? It is not asking you to forgive me – you did that already! It is receiving the grace you have already put on the table. From your side I am forgiven, but as far as I’m concerned I either don’t want your forgiveness or I don’t know that I have it. The truth of your forgiveness has no effect in my life because I have not received it.

Every sinner has a distorted image of God. What is true and good about their heavenly Father is not seen by them because their minds are veiled. Truth filtered through a distortion no longer appears like truth. This is why the mind of the sinner is incapable of receiving the things of God. Unconditional forgiveness and grace sound like foolishness. The solution is not to use carrots and sticks to motivate sinners to turn from sin (that’s John the Baptist). Neither is the solution to argue with them on the basis of reason (their minds are veiled). The remedy is to preach the pure and undiluted gospel and pray they get a Holy Spirit revelation of grace. Truth dawns only by revelation.

The gift that needs to be received

At the cross, the sins of the world were sent away. This is what forgiveness literally means: to send away. Our sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west and God is not counting men’s sins against them (2 Cor 5:19). This is why the Risen Lord said we are to proclaim forgiveness as a done deal, rather than sell it as a favor to be earned. Forgiveness is a gift that needs to be received (Acts 26:18) and in Him we have it (Eph 1:7, Col 1:14).

The opposite of forgiveness or remission is sin retention (see John 20:23). Although the sins of the world were taken away at the cross, people still carry their sins. They are crippled by their sins and sinning gives the devil the opportunity to accuse them mercilessly. Many remain slaves to sin. The only thing that can free them and empower them to sin no more is a revelation of God’s grace.

From His side, forgiveness is a done deal. There are no more sacrifices for sin. But from our side sin may be a very serious problem indeed. So why do you need to receive the gift of forgiveness if you are already forgiven? For the same reason you need to receive the grace of God that has appeared to all men – it will change you. It will free you from guilt and condemnation and being a slave to sin. It is not enough that God has forgiven you. Grace unmixed with faith is worthless. You have to receive it. You have to quit beating yourself up over sin and start trusting Jesus and His perfect work.

If a sinner asks, “Am I forgiven?” What do you tell them?

This is another good question and it is motivated by the fear of casting pearls before swine. I guess it depends on where they are at. If the person asking were a scribe or lawyer trying to impress me with their clever arguments and self-righteous logic, I would speak the only language they understand – the language of conditional forgiveness. I would say, “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps He will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart” (Acts 8:22). In other words, to the self-righteous I would preach the law in order that their proud mouths would be silenced. Let the law do its proper work and then they will be ready for grace.

Or if the person asking was under the delusion that they were utterly sinless, I would say, “You are deceiving yourself. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9).

But if the one asking was genuinely open to the grace of God, I would say, as Paul did, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:38). I would tell them the good news of grace – you are forgiven! – and I would encourage them to put their faith in Jesus and believe it.

There are a lot of self-righteous people in the church but most sinners aren’t like that. They don’t need the law to tell them they are not perfect – they already know. They live with guilt and regret and their consciences condemn them. Sinners like this desperately need to hear that their sins have been forgiven and it is our responsibility to tell them. Indeed, this is the privilege of preaching the gospel.

The ministry of reconciliation is not telling people that a huffy God waits for them to sooth His offended nature with a bunch of repentance flowers and a box of chocolates. It is the thrill of telling them the glad happy news that God loves them, His face is turned towards them, and He holds nothing against them.


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48 Comments on Why do people need to receive the gift of forgiveness if the whole world is already forgiven?

  1. John Senior // July 11, 2012 at 7:34 am // Reply

    Thank you Paul for this teaching. It gives me more effective tools to preach Grace. We Christians seem to forget that it is the goodness of God (not His anger or judgment) that leads people to repentance – changing their minds about God and His unconditional love. As you rightly say, most sinners KNOW they are sinners – they certainly do not need the Church to beat them up anymore.

  2. Again Paul… Soooo well done with this one! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You have an incredible gift of bringing hard to understand concepts to within the reach of every man.

    Loved this one!

  3. I understand what you are saying, and most of it is clear, but… I thought that we have to understand forgiveness to the point that we THEN place our faith in Christ. its not enough to be forgiven, you have to repent ( turn around) and accept Christ… You didnt really stress that part and I was wondering why??.. you sort of focused on accepting that we are forgiven – but thats only half the story, isnt it?Otherwise its just universalism… we are all forgiven…

    • No Tracy, we do not repent to get forgiven; we repent (change our unbelieving minds) because we are forgiven. The gift has been given but we must still receive it. Repentance is an act of faith and faith is always a response to God’s grace. This is definitely not universalism. Universalism says all are saved. The gospel declares “the grace of God has appeared to all men” – now believe it and be saved.

      • Stephen John // July 16, 2013 at 9:11 am //

        Maybe it depends on the experience. For those who really do not know the story very well one literally can Experience Forgiveness AFTER repenting otherwise it’s not true repentance. The example cited would be since I’m already forgiven I’ll repent, however as described and the process works is that one can’t know forgiveness in the first place until after having repented..that is why John the Baptist preceded Jesus…so I’ll disagree on this post and I agree with Tracy.

      • carmelo asencio // May 9, 2019 at 4:25 am //

        its like explained grace is out there universe ly but you respond to it by reiceving it by action of your faith by establishing it by your confession

  4. Very well said Paul, good word, thank you.

  5. Ohhhh well that makes more sense. Thank you for clarifying that for me 🙂

  6. I like most of what you are writhing here, but I have a few issues I would like to make some comments on. You are writing that to the self-righteous you would preach the law. I cannot find anywhere in the preaching of Paul to the people who did not know the law, that he was preaching the law. So why should we ever preach the law to people who has never been under the law?

    Then you are writhing about the “sinners” that they live with guilt and regret and their consciences condemn them. Do you really believe that most “sinners” lives like this? I don’t think so. And if they do, where in the Bible do we find that a bad conscience made anyone turn to God? Both from the bible and from my own experience I find that a bad conscience only leads people away from God. Adam and Eve were the first people to ever feel what it was like to have a bad conscience. And the result of that was that they tried to cover their sham with their own deeds and in the end hide themselves from God. A bad conscience only produces dead works. That’s why the blood of Jesus purges our conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb.9:14)

    Unfortunately most of the preaching in mainstream churches has as its goal to produce a bad conscience.The believers should feel a bad conscience because they don’t live a holy and consecrated life, or because they don’t give enough money to support the church, the poor, the outreach ministries and so forth. If the preacher push hard enough and long enough on this buttons, he will have a good crowd coming to the front to reconsecrate their lives ONE more time. And to many preachers, the number of people coming to the front determines the success of the service. The same method can also be used to have sinners coming to the front to “get saved.” But this method only works on “sinners” with a background in a church ambient.

    • Walter, are you saying you would preach the law to those already battling with guilt and condemnation? Because that seems redundant to me. The Jews don’t have a monopoly on religion. People who are self-righteous are a law unto themselves. It may be true that most sinners do not battle with guilt – my point was that most sinners intuitively know they are not perfect. They don’t need the law to tell them. Their bad consciences won’t make them turn to God, but a revelation of His goodness (i.e., the gospel) might lead them to repentance.

      • i agree that most sinners intuitively know – they don’t always need the law to tell them they are sinners. but i think its b/c in a way, the law actually HAS been telling them… i believe that God used the diasporas of the jewish people to spread a knowledge of the law throughout the nations. everywhere they went, they took the law w/ them, and shared it w/ the peoples they integrated w/. by the time Jesus came, the gentiles had been exposed to some form of the moral law – even if they didn’t live under it like the jewish people. and the legalistic church has done the same thing w/ the law: exposed unbelievers to the humanly unachievable perfect standards of God. but He makes ALL things work together for our good! so even bad things- like the diaspora and legalistic Christianity – are used by Him for His purpose!

      • On that last point I agree with you 100% And of course I would not preach the law to sinners. My point is that I would not, and I do not preach the law to anyone. My calling as a New Testament believer is to preach the gospel, and nothing else. Do the Jews have monopoly on the law? Yes they do. If not, why didn’t Paul preach the Law of Moses to those outside the Jewish communities? Do you find any examples on Paul preaching the Law of Moses before he preached the gospel? Or that he did so after he had preached the gospel? And if we are to preach the Law, what part of the Law are we supposed to preach, and what part are we not supposed to preach? Most of the confusion among Christian’s groups to day is about what part of the Law we are supposed to preach, and what part we are not supposed to preach. Take away any preaching on the law, and we are back with a raw and powerful gospel.

      • Walter, I hear where you are coming from and I agree that many are confused about the role of the law. But the solution is mis-use is not non-use but correct use.

        Paul said of the law that it is good if used properly and that it was not just for Jews but the lawless and disobedient and ungodly etc. (1 Tim 1:8-9). I want to distinguish the law from the law covenant. The law covenant was unique to the historical Jews. But the law is for those “under the law” which is different. Anyone can put themselves under the law and many do. It is the nature of religion to promote works of the flesh and law-keeping is a prime example. You don’t need to be Jewish to do it. The Galatians weren’t. Did Paul preach the law to non-Jews? “I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law” (Gal 5:3). He was referring to the circumcised Galatians – those who had put themselves under law. Paul didn’t put them there. He was saying, “Okay, if you want to trust in the law, then you have an obligated to keep the whole thing.” He wasn’t promoting a law-based lifestyle but trying to point out the futility of their choice.

        Grace given to the self-righteous is wasted grace. They won’t receive it because their faith is in themselves. Jesus didn’t preach grace to the self-righteous but law. Jesus even made a point of saying “I have not come for the so-called righteous but the unrighteous.”

  7. Thank you for taking time to make comment on my comment. I disagree with you one some issues, but I am not going to take more of your time. I am sure you can fill your time with more important things then arguing with me. I respect very much the work you are doing on this page, and I have been greatly blessed by most of your writings. Keep up the good work

  8. Jason Hyland // July 16, 2012 at 12:18 pm // Reply

    Hi Paul. Can I respectfully recommend this website? I think you will find it really helpful. BW. Jason

  9. Paul, firstly I just want you to know that i agree with you on many points, however i do have questions that perhaps you can help to clarify. I’ve heard and read a lot on this ‘new’ Grace revelation and forgiveness of sins. In relation to this topic – is baptism (as in, Repent and be Baptized) part of the receiving of Forgiveness? Isn’t that part of the gospel too? Yet, most of the literature I have read or sermons I have heard seem to gloss over this part, perhaps because there is some worry that baptism might be seen as a ‘work’ of the flesh.

    • Samuel, this new grace revelation is 2000 years old. It’s not that new. Grace in all its forms, including forgiveness, comes to us through faith alone and faith is determined in the heart. I don’t want to gloss over faith – it is essential.

  10. This is truly GOOD news!!

  11. Thank you brother! As far as I am concerned, as far as I see the Word of God, you nailed it, and hot the proverbial nail on its proverbial head! That brought joy to my heart! Praise GOD for Jesus!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Hi Paul. Love all you put forth on this website and your book, TGITW, is quite possibly one of the best books on “the” gospel I have ever read!

    I wanted to bring a very small detail to your attention about this post. In the section heading, “The gift that needs to be received” the last sentence, “Forgiveness is a gift that needs to be received (Acts 26:18) and in Him we have it (Eph 1:7, Col 1:4).” I believe the scripture reference should be Col 1:14. Noticed it as I was reading this post.

    Because of Jesus, bessings and abundant favor are yours (and mine) brother!


  13. Hi Paul, Jesus said the only sin that will not be forgiven is a rejection of the witness of the Holy Spirit regarding Jesus Christ as Savior. So a sinner is not forgiven (and not saved) for his rejection of the witness of the Holy Spirit regarding Jesus Christ as Savior. Mark 3: 28-29 Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; [29] but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

  14. Paul love the site 🙂 Is the sinner is already forgiven, he just hasn’t received forgiveness hence still lost. Help me here??

    • Forgiveness is an expression of grace and God’s grace has appeared to the whole world (Tit 2:11) – but not everyone has received it. God doesn’t forgive our sins when we repent and confess. Rather, we repent and confess because he has forgiven our sins. Faith is always a response to what God has said or done and everything that needed to be done to our sins was done at the cross (Heb 10:12).

      • To clarify…, ALL were forgiven at the Cross….(just one drop of His precious blood was ample!).., but those who reject and choose not to believe.., they are not saved. They have denied what was accomplished. Faith alone, in Christ alone…, for salvation. Correct?

  15. Excuse me for thinking out loud here. I have been grappling with this concept and a related one regarding those who have perpetrated dreadful crimes while on this earth. I understand that Christ as the last Adam redeemed us from the original sin of the first Adam. You say forgiveness is a gift already given and we must receive it in order to be changed by Grace. I am also thinking of the parable of the workers who all received the same payment no matter how long they worked. I take from that parable that it is possible, even to the last breath, to accept that gift of forgiveness. Could it also be possible that we have the chance to accept that gift after passing from this world?

    I have had a vivid image whilst praying. In my vision I saw myself embracing a person who committed dreadful crimes during his time on this earth. Both of us felt immense joy because our fallen natures had passed away and we were no longer slaves to things of this world. I could feel the immense love of God. Reflecting upon this, I have no idea what transpired in this persons last moments, he could have taken that forgiveness and been transformed.

    An unfinished thought, if you have something to add to help it along I’d appreciate it.


    • I wonder if the scripture: “It is appointed unto man ONCE to die.., then after this…, the ‘scrutiny’ (judgement).” Meaning: the scrutiny as to whether or not one BELIEVED (exercised FAITH) prior to his earthly(physical) death. ???

      • Adam and Eve died in Eden and from then man has lived under Gods scrutiny , with the purpose of giving man the gift of life.

  16. I loved this post Paul! Grace to the humble, law to the proud. I was wondering if you’ve ever heard of the evangelist Ray Comfort of Living Waters & Way of the Master. He basically uses the law in evangelism as a setup for sharing the gospel. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks! (sorry, i know this is an old post, but all your posts are like gospel treasures!)

  17. Thank you and good morning,i always say im without sin because of the cross,.but also have the tendency to confess my sins and it kept me stagnant because it was confusing God,i believe.And the conciousness of sins really crippled me unknowingly and i had to google about what weak christians did to overcome and i found ur blog which really released me from a low ‘faith’ esteem . I really thought nothing ever works for me because i kept go digging up my past from under the blood of Jesus and kept waving it in front of God who in His turn have to hide away His face from me(actually from my sins)because He is so holy He cant look at sins.One thing i also loved to do is when i pray for people i say i forgive their sins because of John 20:23.

  18. Kato Robert // May 15, 2016 at 12:32 am // Reply

    Amen people always find a problem with receiving effortlessly those who need credit still strugle to bring up their role

  19. I think there is a deference between sin and sins. The sin Jesus died for was the sin which all inherit from the fall – the separation from God. Once we accept the grace we must do something with our sins. 1 John 1:9 an action of faith in Christ.

    • momzilla76 // June 20, 2016 at 1:43 pm // Reply

      What you are saying is like Jesus died to bring us back to life but leaves it up to us to cure ourselves from cancer. He wouldn’t be a very good doctor if He did that? Thankfully the sin and sins Jesus died for are both. Hebrews 9:24-10:18 blessedly show that He not only brings us back to life He cures the cancer as well.

  20. Great foundational teaching Saint Paul.

    The gift of righteoussness and forgiveness is freely offered to all, but that doesn’t make it automatic. It doesn’t do me any good until I believe it’s for me personally and I recieve it unto myself (take hold of it by faith).

    Warren (South Carolina, USA)

  21. Hi Paul. In Acts 8:13 it says that Simon the Sorcerer believed and was baptized. It sounds like a legitimate response to the Gospel. In v22, Peter tells Simon to repent and hope that God would forgive him.

    Was he or wasn’t he saved? Was forgiveness only a ‘maybe’?

    • Roshan J Easo // June 29, 2017 at 2:54 pm // Reply

      Andrew Wommack has a way of saying this. “You better pray that God can forgive all your sins…because he only died for them once!” Happy gospel friend.

  22. Hi Dr Paul, please I need you to help clarify my doubts on this issue on forgiveness of sins under the old covenant. I read Leviticus 16 and it says on the day of atonement after the blood of the animals were shed, the sins of the Israelites were covered (forgiven) for ONE year. My question is, if their sins were really covered or forgiven for ONE year, why is it that when individuals sinned they were still carrying animals to the priests to kill so that they could be forgiven again? Is the blood of the animal slaughtered for their sins on the day of atonement ineffective? Why didn’t they just rest until the next atonement day? I just don’t get it. Please help me with your thoughts.

    • The annual day of atonement actually had zero value in taking away the sins of Israel, “for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4). It’s true purpose was in foreshadowing both the sacrifice and “scapegoat” of Jesus, who bore all our sins on the cross. If the atonement sacrifice actually worked – and the Bible says it didn’t – I guess people would not have died during the year. That’s just my off the cuff response.

  23. I am confused on a few things with this idea that everyone was forgiven once for all. Why was there a teaching to confess in order to be forgiven after the cross? I know this is a confession of an unbeliever admitting they need a savior but why does the forgiveness come after that instead of him saying you are already forgiven now recieve it? Also the bible talks about God judging peoples sins at the end (unbelievers). So how can God judge sin if it is not an issue? Why are people labeled by their sins and not able to enter into heaven because of them like it says in Galations and other locations (adulterers, liars, fornicaters etc). Still confused if anyone can clarify these little things. I agree forgiveness was provided for all at the cross. Just stumped on a few things.

    • Hi Jenny, you can find articles on most of these scriptures in the Archives > Scripture Index. I have probably written more articles on God’s forgiveness and confession than any other pair of subjects. You can find these in the Archives > Subject Index. Thanks.

    • Squawks 5000 // August 10, 2018 at 6:27 pm // Reply

      My take (I may disagree slightly with Paul Ellis) is that this is on relational forgiveness.

      In salvation, we are positionally forgiven, and nothing can change this status. Period.

      However, sometimes in our walk with Christ we struggle and fall down. Jesus didn’t leave us — we walked away for a bit. When we “confess”, he forgives us relationally.

      It’s a bit confusing, but to me, it explains the most scripture in the most consise way. A way to better understand it is John 13. Confessing sin is like feet washing. We do it since our feet is dirty, but when it comes to justification (body wash), it’s one time. Confess-sinto-forgive is NOT the one time body wash — it’s the feet wash.

      • Thank you for this response but I slightly disagree. I understand 1 John 1:9 is talking to unbelievers confessing their sinful state to be saved. I have already gone down the rabbit trail of being a believer and thinking I had to confess my sins to be relationally forgiven. It is completely impossible and results in sin focus making my behavior even worse. I definitely believe in once for all complete forgiveness not the up and downs of confessing.

    • John W Reed // August 11, 2018 at 1:33 pm // Reply

      A simple response to the question is if one who is an unbeliever, with all their sins, and sees Jesus once for all time payment for those sins, but rejects the free gift, what have they done? In essence, they’ve told God, I see you made the payment for all my sins but I don’t want your payment. I choose to pay for my own sins. So if we come to God based upon our righteousness, and weighing our good against our bad what will happen? In that scenario that would explain “judgment” against the individual sins as it says in Revelation. These unbelievers were known for their sins and not their good deeds because they chose to come to God based upon Law, upon works and performance.

      • Hmm this is an interesting perspective that makes a lot of sense! Im going to keep thinking about this thank you!

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