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.”
Yes, you should, but you’re fooling yourself if you think you can do that which Christ has done. The sinless Lamb of God paid an enormous 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. (It cost him his Son’s life!) If forgiveness is a debit card, then 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 (hooray!), 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 … (Psalm 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!