Is Forgiveness Like a Debit Card?

Forgiveness debit card

Are you completely forgiven or partly forgiven?

It’s a simple question that reveals whether you appreciate all Christ did for you on the cross.

Recently I heard a critic of the grace message say two contradictory statements: Christ paid for your complete redemption (amen!) but you are not completely forgiven (huh?).

That’s like saying you’re saved, but not really. Or you’re holy, but sanctification is progressive.

It’s the sort of mixed-up message you get from a mixed-up gospel.

Forgiveness like a debit card?

Some say that forgiveness is like a debit card. When Christ died he made a million-dollar deposit into your account. If you sinned this morning you are not forgiven until you confess and repent and draw upon that cross-wrought provision.

In other words, between the time you sin and the time you repent, you are unforgiven. Your account is in the red. You need to fix it.

“But Paul, if I sin I should make amends. It’s only right.”

It’s always a good idea to clean up our messes, but you’re fooling yourself if you think you can do that which Christ has done. The sinless Lamb of God paid a high price to carry your sin. Can you pay the same price?

It is ludicrous to think we can do a better job than Jesus, or that we can complete what he left half-done. Yet that’s exactly what the debit-card picture suggests. What happens if you forget to confess? What happens if you confess every sin but one?

“It doesn’t really matter. God looks at the heart.”

But it does matter, for the law tells us so. Break the law of confessing-to-be-forgiven and you will be guilty of breaking the whole thing (Jas 2:10).

Last week I neglected to put money into my account before my electricity bill went out. The bill bounced and a small oversight led to a big headache. There were letters. There were phone calls. There was a bank fee.

God treats sin the same way banks treat money – very seriously.

If forgiveness is a debit card, you need to account for every single sin, big and small. So stop reading this, fall to your knees and repent for the sin of not treating sin seriously!

Actually, don’t stop reading because you need to hear this next bit.

The debit card metaphor is an unbiblical picture that promotes performance-based Christianity. It suggests that when we come to Christ, our sin debt is paid off, but – and there is always a but in the mixed-grace message – every time we sin we incur a fresh debt which will be held to our account until we take steps to fix it.

How is this not mixing grace with works? How is this not prostituting the love of God?

God’s forgiveness is not given in installments

Forgiveness is not a debit card but a gift. You have been completely and eternally forgiven on account of Jesus. You need to settle this in your heart otherwise you’ll be tossed and turned by every mixed-up teaching.

But don’t take my word for it. Let every matter be established in the presence of two or three witnesses. Here’s my first witness, the apostle Paul:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. (Eph 1:7)

You are not forgiven in accordance with your acts of confession but his grace. Now for my second witness:

I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. (1 John 2:12)

Are forgiven, not will be forgiven. The cross is a done deal. Jesus died once for all to do away with all sin. Here’s my third witness:

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins … (Ps 103:2–3a)

All means all. All does not mean only those sins you have repented and confessed for Jesus carried the sins of the whole world.

And now for a surprise witness: It’s Jesus himself who, on the night he rose from the dead, said that the forgiven-ness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.

Unconditional love = unconditional forgiveness

While he walked this earth Jesus forgave sinners who neither repented nor confessed. He did this to show that love keeps no record of wrongs. He did it to reveal a God who loves you like a Father and who does not wait for you to get cleaned up before welcoming you with open arms.

My friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. (Act 13:38)

Forgiveness is not something to earn through acts of piety or penance, but a gift to receive and in Christ Jesus you have it.


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49 Comments on Is Forgiveness Like a Debit Card?

  1. God bless you Paul

  2. Abidoye damilare // July 17, 2015 at 12:37 am // Reply

    Loaded….remain blessed brother paul

  3. I love your humor Paul. I really needed to read this today. The past few days I’ve been dealing with a little PTSD from my past sins. There are several things from my past that immensely regret and sometimes the hardest part is forgiving myself. I do believe I’m forgiven in Christ and I can never be thankful enough.

    I’ve been hearing a lot of preachers talk about backsliding into sin and that people need to get right again. What are your thoughts on that in relation to this post today? Thank you in advance!

    • Thank you angelae333. “PTSD from my past sins.” What an apt description of regret. Thank God for Jesus who is our effective cure for sin and guilt.

    • “Backsliding” is not in the Bible. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phil 1:6 NLT)

      • This is my “go-to” when I or one of loved ones blunder because this scripture sums it all up so beautifully.
        I can’t truly fix myself or anyone else but God, through the work on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit can and will. My only true participation is to submit and let the work take place. My God is really big and my mistakes are nothing but a speck of dust to Him. He’s not shocked nor scandalized by our failings. He made us after all. He loves and forgives as a true parent regardless of how big we think our sins are.

  4. “is forgiveness like a debit card” wow i liked every single word written on that passage, will surely share it with every one. Powerful!

  5. What a great analogy Paul. There’s nothing like the gift of forgiveness and righteousness, all received AT SALVATION. I’ll have to use this in one of my upcoming messages. Thank you for continuing to share the “almost too good to be true GOOD NEWS”! You’re a blessing to the Kingdom and a voice to those who need hope: Jesus!

  6. Well done Paul,this to me is part of the foundation of growth if you I have noticed that if people cant get past this they get stuck, and remain in infancy .

    • I agree Earl. Unconditional and complete forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door to Grace living. Until we find our rest in His work on the cross we will not let go of our efforts to produce the life Christ wants to live through us.

      I was a legalist surrounded by mixed gospel messages. I only understood debit card forgiveness, mostly due to bad teaching of 1st Jn 1:9 and what we call the Lord’s prayer( Paul has great posts on those). This was my first 10 years as a Christian. And I was gung-ho concerning my service for God. I looked great to others but I was getting worn out. When I started to hear the idea of total forgiveness, it was great news. The feeling was like I got saved all over again. It was as if I had been in a dark room and the light had been turned on and I could finally see to make since of the things I had taught and preached about with passion, but also in ignorance for several years. I’m baffled as to why people are resistant to news so good!

      The salvation miracle of crossing over from death to life was just a treadmill of works and repeating cycle of seeking forgiveness and REALITY until I grasped the GIFT of total forgiveness. It got me off the “infancy” treadmill.

      Great illustration Paul.

      • I liked what you said here, Jason, because I can relate to most of it. The thing is that we all (in the church) look good on the outside. Only we ourselves know if we are really receiving from God or whether we’re just working and hoping that He will accept us based on your work. So people under grace or law or law mixed with grace often look exactly the same. Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, so if we feel that he has demands on us that are heavy than we have some wrong believing going on.

        You know when the faucet of God’s love and grace is turned on. I got by in drinking much less than God had for me. It was good; more than most people get. But things are very different now. Most people do not understand that, but you do.

  7. Paul, it is awesome how God speaks through you to explain concepts so simply! Now, I own & operate a retail store and if I could just get some of those God’s Forgiveness Gift Cards to pass out…

  8. Any articles-insight from God’s Word on …

  9. Thanks for this post Paul, it’s a blessing to read pure undiluted Grace!

    I think being secure in complete, eternal forgiveness is such an essential belief if we want to have supernatural Joy well up inside us for any length of time.

    if we’re not sure of our salvation in Jesus being eternal then how could we possibly even dream of having Joy that remains in every situation?

    An honest question to the people who don’t believe in eternal security… If you would let your mind believe in being eternally, completely cleansed, washed and forgiven, how would it make your Spirit feel, wouldn’t you feel innocent and ecstatically full of Joy at the same time? Would that not make you want to worship and thank Jesus more?

  10. Being a Christian is based on “who you are”- not on “what you do”. The scriptures used to contradict this are being taken out of context.

  11. Kyle Defoe // July 17, 2015 at 6:22 am // Reply

    I love it! If confessing our sins was not enough to save us when we were unbelievers it cannot save us now! Praise to God who blots out our sin for the glory of His name!

  12. Judah Emory // July 17, 2015 at 8:23 am // Reply

    This Is So Awesome Paul Thank You For Sending Me This

  13. I have another scenario that some people come up with: if you use up everything on the “debit card” your “forgiveness” has expired and you have depleted all of God’s grace.

  14. Roy Larson // July 17, 2015 at 11:24 am // Reply

    So sweet, unconditional love = unconditional forgiveness!
    A monsoon rain washing the body of caked, dried mud. Love your posts!

  15. chrisvanrooyen // July 17, 2015 at 7:06 pm // Reply

    And if all this be true as I believe it is then there is nothing to disqualify you for all Gods blessings, they come by grace, and grace is the qualification.very good news for those with faith to take hold of it, and again not your faith but built on the gift of faith given to you. Great post Paul.

  16. Lee Whitcomb // July 17, 2015 at 11:59 pm // Reply

    Paul, IF you taught “Justification” rather than forgiveness THEN this subject would be much easier to understand…. Many think that forgiveness and justification are the same thing, but they are not! Forgiveness excuses the sin while justification removes the very charge of that sin. Justification is forensic; it’s like a jury foreman saying, “your honor, we find the defendant NOT GUILTY”. Our next sin (and all thereafter)will be committed because we will yield to the influence of our flesh rather than to TRUST God. That next sin and all thereafter were on the cross. We need only to depend on God to meet our needs and solve our problems—but, Romans 7 will explain why that will be a difficulty for the rest of our life.

  17. Wonderful post, Paul. Love the gift card! I also want to thank you. I am doing a sermon series contrasting the hyper grace gospel and the mixed grace gospel. I am interjecting it into a series on Romans right before 10:14-15 where Paul identifies the gospel as Good News. About 80% of it is from the chart in your book. (I am crediting you. And I am using a pic from the grace gallery to end my sermon. I am also projecting your web address on the screen.) Thank you for all of that.

  18. Well done again, my brother! I continue to be encouraged and more firmly established with the insight you bring. I am a bit puzzled though with Jesus’ words in John 20:23 where he seems to give an authority to his disciples to pronounce forgiveness (so far so good!) but also the unthinkable – that someone may not be forgiven and his sins are retained. Any insight into this would be most appreciated! Thank you again Paul.

  19. Great article…I struggle with one thing, how do we deal with the guilt from the natural consequences of sin ? Or is Gods grace always greater than those consequences ? Thoughs ? Your articles are very insightful

  20. Hi Paul, I looked up 1 Jn 2:12 in the Blue Letter Bible. The words, “are forgiven” are in the ‘perfect tense’.

    Definition of “Perfect”

    The perfect tense in Greek corresponds to the perfect tense in English, and describes an action which is viewed as having been completed in the past, once and for all, not needing to be repeated.

    Jesus’ last cry from the cross, TETELESTAI (“It is finished!”) is a good example of the perfect tense used in this sense, namely “It [the atonement] has been accomplished, completely, once and for all time.”

  21. I’m really growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus lately but am curious to your thoughts …

    • Thanks for the question but please note that I normally delete comments that aren’t related to the posts under which they are posted. Here are some better ways to get your questions answered.

      • Victoria // July 2, 2021 at 3:20 am //

        Thank you Paul. I’m still struggling with this mixed-gospel problem and still unsure of how to remain in God’s grace/overcome. It’s been years of struggle and up to spring 2018 I even was evangelizing twice a week, Sunday school once a week, and two to three and a half jobs on top of that, at the apex of my service to God before completely burning out. I’m still recovering or kind of hiding out a bit, by just working two jobs and with less hours but not serving with church anymore, which distresses me because I want Jesus and I don’t think He could be happy with me yet, but I’m too traumatized to go back to that life.

  22. God forgave all our sin from the foundation of the world, it’s made clear. It doesn’t depend on anything we do or not do, but we still need to confess and repent of our sins. That’s when we receive His forgiveness. Unless we believe that He already forgave us and admit we sinned and want to stop it, it will do us no good that we are forgiven.

    “1 John 1:9 (KJV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Our confession is not what God requires to forgive us, it’s how we get rid of sin and it’s consequences (unrighteousness).

    1 John 5:18 says “We know that whosoever is born of God sins not; but he that is begotten of God keeps himself, and that wicked one touches him not.” This is why it’s important to get rid of sin by confession and repentance because otherwise we expose ourselves to the devil.

  23. Paul thanks once again for a great article , God has really been impressing this on me , i think it offends the holy spirit when people say God doesnt forgive All your sins , and that you need to repent and confess. I thank God again for the likes of you Dr Paul who thoroughly refute Religion and religious doctrines.
    the bible says in Collosians, And you who were dead in sin and in the uncircumsion of your flesh, God raised you up together with Christ having FREELY FORGIVEN US ALL OUR sins.
    The resurrection of Jesus is the divine receipt that ive been forgiven of all my sins Allllll..another verse is in corinthians i think it says now if christ did not raise from the dead then youre still in your sins!But he rose, and i rose with him so all my past present and future sins have been wiped out Cause I am a new creation,a species that never existed before, ive passed from death tol life. I m doing my best to meditate on this solid truth to push out every religious belief ive had in me…God bless us , God hates these false doctrines it keeps his childredn bound in fear, May you keep exposing all these wrong doctrines and deliver to us the truth …a thing which you always do thank you

  24. another thing i want to add is , God warns us to not believe false doctrines and human traditions , saying some sins cant be forgiven that would mean, Jesus wasnt a perfect sacrifice? and that his work was partial. HOW DARE WE SAY THIS, he rose from the dead to secure an everlasting righteousness, well i think in these end times we have to set our guard above Religion , because Religion is the devils favourite tool he uses to manipulate and control people, and he will manipulate and control you until youre worn out .Its only the accurate teaching of the word that will put you over in life. May God help us to believe his truth only

  25. Wayne Nickel // July 22, 2015 at 6:32 pm // Reply

    Hi Paul, I have enjoyed your posts. It has got me to think more deeply and search for truth.
    Initially there was some points you made on some topics I had reservations, but now I see where you were going with it. I still have some questions for you on some topics that I don’t quite see eye to eye on, but I can say that there is no disagreement on His Amazing Grace!
    There is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. ALL our sins, past present and future are washed away!

  26. It is possible to be born again and still live in bondage simply because we do not know or understand that we are totally forgiven of our past present and future sins. But when you understand this fact, you are able to live free from condemnation and guilt. Indeed blessed be the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who forgave all our sins. Great post bro. Paul, may God continue to teach you His word as you teach the body of Christ. God bless you.

  27. Thnkq…for tht 😊

  28. Lorrelle Sanford // August 7, 2015 at 1:41 am // Reply

    Love this, however why confess and seek forgiveness then? Especially when Jesus taught us to confess our sins. In the prayer he prayed.. forgive us our sins as we forgive others in his prayer.

    • Jesus never taught us to confess sins but he did forgive the sins of people who never confessed. It is a good idea to confess and agree with God that Jesus carried all our sin, but confession is not something that compels the Lord to do what he’s already done. Regarding his words in Matthew 6:14-15, you may be interested in this post.

  29. Thanks be to God. It’s from no longer being a sinner that we learn not to sin. Identity first.

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