Does James 5:15 preach conditional forgiveness?

Unconditional forgiveness_2

Those who put price tags on grace sometimes point to this verse:

The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (James 5:15)

“See – you have to confess and pray to be forgiven,” they say. “If you don’t do these things, God won’t forgive you.” Never mind that grace and works don’t mix (Rom 11:6). Never mind that God is not counting our sins against us (2 Cor 5:19). Never mind that every blessing is ours in Christ (Eph 1:3). Apparently you have to perform to be blessed.

Don’t be fooled. Fall for this and you will fall from grace.

James never says, “God won’t forgive you unless you do A, B, and C.” Read the verse again and you will see there is only one condition for forgiveness:

If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.

Have you sinned? Then you will be forgiven!

How can James say such an audacious thing? Because Christ bore all your sins on the cross. You are not forgiven because you prayed, confessed, or repented, but because God is love and love keeps no record of wrongs. You are not forgiven in accordance with your acts of repentance, but in accordance with the riches of his grace (Eph 1:7).

How can James say the sinner will be forgiven?

Because the sinner already has been forgiven. It’s a done deal. A fulfilled promise. You just need to receive it.

So why doesn’t James say, “If they have sinned, they were forgiven”?

Aside from the fact that it’s really bad grammar, it doesn’t make sense – not to the sinner. If you are burdened with guilt, you need forgiveness today – not yesterday or tomorrow but right now. So go ahead and ask. I guarantee God will give you the forgiveness you need because he already has done it.

Some say, “Wait for the afterlife, and all will be well,” as though death were a savior. “The sick must die before they are healed.”

But James preaches healing and forgiveness for today (see v.16). The blessings of God aren’t postponed to the hereafter for now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).

The question is not, will God forgive you? (He already has!) But will you receive his forgiveness? Will you cling to the sins of your past or will you take hold of his forgiveness today?

“I want this forgiveness. I need this forgiveness. How do I get it?”

The prayer of faith

The grace of God can only be received by faith (Eph 2:8). You have to believe it to enjoy it. If you don’t believe God is your good and gracious Father, you will waste your life trying to earn his favor. If you won’t allow your heart to be established in his righteousness, you will spend your life trying to become righteous. You’ll confess and repent and strive and it won’t improve your standing before God one bit.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

God loved you before you did anything good and before you confessed any sin. Right now he is beaming at you with undiluted love and approval. You are the apple of his eye and his dearly-loved child. You need to believe this to be free.

The gospel of Jesus is the only message that proclaims unconditional forgiveness to a sinful world. “Pray the prayer of faith,” says James. What is the prayer of faith that helps us receive what we so desperately need?

It is saying, “Thank you, Jesus!”


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52 Comments on Does James 5:15 preach conditional forgiveness?

  1. Another goodie  🙂   Declaring healing, deep restful sleep and peace over you tonight, dear one…I’m off to dreamland myself – was just waiting for Stan to say goodbye before he headed off to work….xm

  2. I think often times we come to the point of believing by a process more so than an instantaneous decision. If you want to accept and believe your Father’s unconditional forgiveness, but your on the fence, ask Him to teach you.

    • Warren (South Carolina, USA) // September 2, 2016 at 10:47 am // Reply

      Agree LJP. I am seeing the process as being established in faith. Once we are established (no wavering?) in faith, the believing is there. Hard to explain. Great post Saint Paul.
      Warren (South Carolina, USA)

    • Jared Westendorp // June 4, 2019 at 10:57 pm // Reply

      Yeah. Like when James says, “if any of you lacks wisdom….”. We all know who wisdom is.

  3. Yes… Conditional forgiveness exists.
    If you’ve sinned, you are forgiven!

  4. Excellent! Psalm 103 indicates that God’s benefits are multifaceted. Forgiveness comes with healing, and other things. It is like a coin that has a head side and a tail side. If I give you the coin heads up… the tails side comes with it. When God gives us forgiveness, healing comes with it. I think this also relates to the man Jesus healed when He said, “What difference does it make if I say you are healed or your sins be forgiven?” Either way, you are getting both. Yay!

  5. Tope Oloniniyi // September 2, 2016 at 3:06 am // Reply

    Thank you, Paul. Great write up here.

  6. Great stuff Paul! absolutly in the truth!

  7. “If they have sinned, they WILL be forgiven.”
    I don’t think James walked in the fullness of Paul’s revelation (which he got directly from Jesus) so James uses “will” instead of “you have already been forgiven – along with the WHOLE WORLD 2000 years ago” – according to 1 John 2:2 and 2 Cor. 5:18 and 19.
    James held on to – and remained “zealous for – the Law” even as a believer.

    The proof is that he, as leader of the Jerusalem church, required that all Gentiles must first be circumcised before they could become Christians. Even after James was martyred, this requirement was enforced by all succeeding Hebrew bishops in Jerusalem until 135 AD when Rome destroyed the city one final time – and banned all Jews from the city. Only then did the Gentile bishops ban circumcision as a requirement to become a Christian.

    James was guilty of continuing in the mixture law with grace – even after the council of 50 AD – as my book “Is There An Elephant In YOUR Church?” thoroughly documents. It is one of the reasons legalism has been so entrenched in the church for 2000 years. It is about time that we face the historical facts of how mixture got started, in spite of Paul’s heroic efforts to remove it.

    • I’m curious to learn why you think James pushed circumcision in the early church, since when the issue came up (in Acts 15) he opposed it and sided with Paul.

      • Hi Paul, thanks for the insightful article, as usual. As for James having some leaning towards the law, every chapter of the book of James seems to suggest the idea of conditional blessing, conditional forgiveness, good works, and religion. He even addressed the believers as adulterers, adulteresses, and sinners, which didn’t seem to be consistent with Paul’s revelation of the new creation identity of the believer. While I do not have historical facts to buttress my point, Paul’s comment in Galatians 2:12 about the behaivour of the bethren that came from James seem to suggest that James and his company where still strong on the law.

      • If you’ve been a long term E2R reader you will know that I have strong views about James. (If you’re interested, I have written numerous articles on his epistles – check out the Scripture Index.) My view is that he has been widely misunderstood and too quickly dismissed by the grace community. There are numerous reasons why I am convinced James understood grace and I list some of them here.

      • Satish Christopher // September 2, 2016 at 11:05 pm //

        Dear Paul,

        Thanks for the article but I cannot understand why we Grace folks should shy away from confession.

        How about the next verse vs 16 “Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed…..” Even vs 15 says the prayer of faith (appropriating Jesus’ finished work through prayer) will save the sick….meaning unless you appropriate through faith the person will remain sick or in his unforgiven state. Confessing (homologio – essentially saying the same things God says about them…namely they are sins) helps us receive healing and forgiveness. Should not we be encouraging people to confess and receive full forgiveness so that they would receive healing?

        With love
        Satish Christopher

  8. Robert Kinyua // September 2, 2016 at 9:09 am // Reply

    Glory to our great God en Saviour Jesus christ in him dwells all the fulness(Abba,son,holy spirit)of Godhead,you are in him the hope of glory(shalom bro Paul).

  9. I was one of those that became a complete different person instantly after confessing Christ Jesus. I didn’t know what hit me. I was very curious and I started into the word two days later to find out. That happened to me on Jan 26, 2015 and I’ve been in my bible daily since then learning. The most mind blowing thing any of my friends or relatives have ever seen. I didn’t do anything but cry out in prayer for God to show himself before I ended my life later that night. Well, He sent a stranger into my work 2 hours later telling me that the Holy Spirit led him in to talk to me. The man answered all the questions I asked God that very morning. I haven’t been the same since. Now because of my testimony and the shed blood of Jesus Christ, my prayers are never hindered. I ask and I receive. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced. If it’s odd, it’s God. Thank you Paul for E2R, the Holy Spirit led me to you over a misunderstood scripture and I haven’t left. Many blessing to all that read you.

  10. Thank you Paul great message

  11. A believer is a child of God, an unbeliever is not a child of God, one is In Christ the other is not. Christ died for all; however not all accept that. Those who do not accept Christ are not Gods children In fact I believe they belong to someone else.

  12. Hey Paul,

    “How can James such an audacious thing?”

    Aren’t you missing a word there?

  13. Gospel made simple. When people read the Bible upside down they understand it upside down

  14. Great post Paul! Thank you!

  15. James understood grace and the Gospel entirely. “Faith without works is dead” is the verse I see most skip over or hung up on. Some things are only known by the Father and James points out indicators of where we truly place our faith for that is the most hard truth. “Grace Communities” and more “Orthodox Communities” all agree upon salvation by faith alone and not earning Gods grace. James highlights a barometer of sorts in discerning where we are placing our faith.

  16. I appreciate that you discount death as the savior some people make it out to be: “The blessings of God aren’t postponed to the hereafter. . . .” Amen! I totally agree, as I am currently standing on His promises believing for my healing, and I am going to experience complete wellbeing in my body. That’s what I’m praying for, and I know that it will manifest very soon. Thank you also for making me aware of how much God loves me unconditionally. It’s heaven on earth!

  17. Totally agree with what you’re saying about forgiveness, in context though I believe James is talking about believers. Is any sick among you? James was implying because of the Finished Work of Christ sickness isn’t the norm for believers. If they’ve sinned they shall be forgiven, meaning if they sinned they shall receive what’s also already theirs because of the Cross. Some who disagree with Radical Grace or Hyper Grace point to this passage as the “proof” that our future sins aren’t already forgiven. I say keep the context to reveal the truth. Healing was paid for in the Finished Work as well as total and complete forgiveness. Where there is forgiveness their is always healing. Where there is healing you also find forgiveness. The two are inseparable, they are both aspects of the total redemption in the Finished Work. Whenever I blow it, it is greatly comforting to realize afresh, I have already been forgiven and am in perfect right standing because I am the righteousness of God in Him.

  18. Can you tell me more about God’s Blessing being contingent on my/our effort to do the right thing? A good friend is in a church where the pastor wants everyone to sign a covenant to God and if they choose not to sign this covenant, God will/could remove His blessing from the ‘whole’ and in particular the one who doesn’t sign it.
    This pastor has publicly stated, in a service, that this particular church is not experiencing God’s full blessings and by signing this covenant to God, God will return His blessing?? Don’t know much about this ‘covenant’ other than everyone has been asked to sign it.
    What do you think of this exercise?

    • This pastor is putting his church under law. He is using threats to coerce proper behavior. The old covenant was based on a group of people making promises to God. The new covenant is based on God’s promises to us. Personally I would not sign such a document as I interpret it as unbelief in the unmerited goodness of God. The scriptures declare we are blessed with every blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3). Christ has done it all. Our part is to be persuaded and rest in his goodness.

      • Thanks for your quick reply, Paul. This dear friend is ‘worried’ that if this covenant is not signed, the church will/could come under some sort of ‘with-drawl’ of God’s Blessings. I’m on a journey regarding this marvellous Gospel of Grace, feeling so much ‘lighter’ than living in a mixture of Grace and Law for all these years. This ‘coercing’ by a Pastor/Leader/Elder is something I can empathize with my friend about since we put so much ‘trust’ in these leaders to lead, not mislead. I have suggested your books and your E2R website for further reading suggestions and study on the GRACE of God.

  19. It is a matter of historical record. First: yes, James agreed with Peter at the council in 50 AD that “we should not give Gentiles the law” – and require circumcision by implication. Had Peter been “pope” that would be the end of it. But James insisted on giving the Gentiles 4 of the 7 Noahic “laws” (part of Jewish traditional teaching as God’s way of “saving Gentiles). But Paul totally IGNORED that directive (and the written letter) in his own account in Galatians. Instead, he stated that the only thing that they “required” was “to give to the poor” – which he was already doing. That is a blatant refusal of James’ and the council’s presumed authority and directive. Paul did it because “a little levin of law spoils the whole dough,” as Jesus said. It would have been the camel’s nose in the tent. It was about control, not grace – and Paul knew it. Second: In the beginning of the church, all Jewish Christians were initially “Judaizers” – mixing law with grace – because they just put what Jesus taught on top of their Jewish belief system – like Jesus SEEMED to do. (One proof is their reaction to Peter’s experience with Cornelius. It shocked ALL of them because they held to the framework and requirements of Judaism which was exclusive – not inclusive like the New Covenant realities in Christ.) They thought of themselves as just another one of many Jewish sects. They knew Jesus was the Messiah but were not yet aware of all of the implications of that reality – such as “being in Him and He in them.”…

    • Hi Lenny, thanks for taking the time to reply. I read all you wrote but cut your comment to fit E2R’s Comment Policy. I understand why you have come to your conclusion but I disagree with your premises. Yes, Paul had a profound grace encounter with the Lord, but so did James. It’s a stretch to say that all Jewish Christians were Judaizers – the apostles weren’t and presumably the Acts 2 church wasn’t. And Paul did not ignore the four directives mentioned in Acts 15 (eg: sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols) but addressed them in his letters.

      You mention historical records saying James preached circumcision but the only records you cite (the scriptures) state the opposite. Are there other records? I’m not trying to be provocative; I’m genuinely curious. I’m familiar with Eusebius, Chrysotom, Josephus, etc, but don’t recall any of them saying that James required the Gentiles to be circumcised.

      • Hi Paul,
        Sorry for my delayed response. I have been reading your articles on James again (going back to 2010) and have a LOT to respond to but it would be better done in a private forum if possible to adequately discuss the many sides of this issue at length.
        For example, one “side” is a lengthly comparison of Paul’s personal account of the council in 50 AD in Galatians with Luke’s account in Acts, written many years later and NOT as an eye witness. I did this detailed comparison in my book and it is much to long for this format.

        Another side is your fear that if James and Paul do not agree, it calls the Bible’s authenticity into question. That is not a necessary conclusion and I want to explain why. And there are many other “sides.” So since iron can sharpen iron, I would appreciate the opportunity to “lay all my cards on the table” as you did in one of your articles. The issue is bigger than both of us IF, in fact, James is a major factor of why there was “mixture” and even a schism in the early church – as my book contends. If you can counter my research concretely, I will pull my book from Amazon and reconfigure it accordingly.

      • You are certainly not alone in trying to convince me that I’m wrong about James, but you have as much chance of convincing me as I have of convincing you. Probably best to move on.

  20. John J. Withington // September 6, 2016 at 1:13 am // Reply

    5 stars as always 🌠🌠🌠🌠🌠

  21. Berris-Dale Joseph // September 7, 2016 at 10:45 am // Reply

    I do think that God has given you this special ministry to the world. I see you as the direct answer to my prayer and quest for help in this great dilemma for the past 40 years of my Christian life. Is it not a big, fat, dirty shame that we have had this life giving bread of heaven poisoned with the sly lies of Satan, demons, and humans who fail to feed the sheep aright? I have suffered greatly, thinking, but still in my inner heart not really believing this lie from hell. But the suffering came from the disappointment in having to work for a gift that the Bible clearly states has been given already, and so, freely. I know for sure pastor Paul Ellis, that you are an answer to my prayers and agony of 40 years, begging God to bring back the light to my beclouded soul and spirit, after man has polluted Your precious gospel commodity with the poison of preaching and teaching, however subtly, Salvation by WORKS, instead of preaching and teaching salvation by GRACE, according to the Word.

  22. “ Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
    And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.
    And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
    Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed….”
    There are two things here, sickness and sin. But they do not necessarily have to be together, as that is why James said, “if he have committed sins”, As not all sickness is caused by sin. He had to include it for the benefit of all saints and situations. As, “many are the afflictions of the righteous”(Psalm 34:19). Confessing is a necessity according to James, brother of Jesus. I doubt Jesus would grant His brother, (who lived his whole life with Jesus, not just three years), leave to write Holy Scripture, if he would muck it up!
    “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” “Brings back”, this would mean at the most, confessing and the least, repenting!!
    This is all grace in action, or James has some ‘splaining’ to do to his brother!
    Text taken out of context is pretext.

  23. God forgives all who cling to Christ alone as as their personal Lord and Savior. Those who don’t remain unsaved. If all are forgiven yet only those who accept Christ saving work are saved means Jesus shed his blood on Calvary’s cross for millions of people who nevertheless are lost. As Bible teacher A.W. Pink observed observed, Christ’s precious and costly sacrifice cannot fail to completely accomplish God’s sovereign will. “Not a drop of that holy blood was shed in vain.”

    • But a scriptural view is simply this, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believes on him is not condemned : but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Just because some do not believe, does not negate His shed blood. His sovereign will was, “..that the world through him might be saved…”
      We were all lost (such is the world) but Thanks be to God we (that believe) were saved after hearing the gospel truth. “In whom you also trusted, after that you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation:…” Ephesians 1:13. Notice, were saved “after hearing”, as faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word (Gospel truth).
      I know Calvinist believe that “world” here does not mean everyone, yet
      Kosmos, a Greek word means simply, the “place where people live”, ( Strongs Exaustive Concordence #2889). That’s pretty clear. Kosmos is also used in 1 John 2:2 were John speaks of the sin’s of the whole kosmos. Now we know Jesus did not die on the cross for a huge rock. One must understand that kosmos is referring to the “place people live”.
      New Testament Greek Lexicon say’s of Kosmos; the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human family; the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ.

  24. I recently talked with some Christians who sincerely believe they are saved by Grace, but they also think that God wants us to follow the OT laws, not to get saved, but because the laws are beneficial: this is how to be blessed and love God. They say Jesus, the apostles and Paul obeyed the law after salvation, from love, not trying to get right with God. They use examples i.e., we physically and mentally need to rest once every seven days, that it’s healthy, so why wouldn’t we keep Sabbath? And that eating pork is unhealthy, even with cooking, because some bugs in pork survive cooking. They cite “choose this day whom you will serve”, that God still puts “life” and “death” before us as a choice, and that by obeying the law, they are choosing life, just as Jesus showed us to do. I find this has got me a bit confused because on paper, it seems right, in that, if they are saying this is love, not fear, and these things are beneficial, why wouldn’t we embrace them? A parent sets rules to protect their kids. I’m wondering if this is Holy Spirit led? Is God asking us to obey the OT laws out of love? There is a whole movement out there of folks doing this in the Christian world. I don’t want to be fooled. Please help me sort through this.

    • Yes, there are many people who are putting themselves under law, one way or another. The scriptures are very clear: “You are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). I am NOT saying the law is bad, for the law is holy, righteous, and good. I am saying, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor 6:12). If you want to eat bacon, you are free to do so. Yes, we need to rest, but we don’t need to make a law about it. Rules are for children, but God wants us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

      We do not choose life by choosing the law, for the law stirs up sin and ministers death. Trusting in our observance of the law is a bit like saying, “I don’t trust the Holy Spirit to lead me. I prefer the written word to the Living Word.” The issue is why they are doing it. Some observe the law for salvation; others for sanctification; others to earn God’s blessings. The law is not a guide for life; Jesus is. More here.

  25. hi paul…this is emmanuel from nigeria…I really appreciate your boldness and courage to preach the pure gospel of grace despite the mixture by religious preachers…remain blessed..

  26. Solomon Amissah // September 29, 2016 at 9:14 pm // Reply

    Thank you pr. Paul. I am also a preacher of righteousness. Can you please explain James 5:14 – ‘anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord’
    In my view he was talking about medicinal treatment either from the hospital or herbally applied treatments in our homes.
    What is your take on that?

  27. I have been born again for 30 years and only had a revelation of Grace 3 years ago, I felt so free it was like being born again, again. Please would you explain James 5: 19-20, as I do not understand this through Grace eyes as once saved always saved. Thank you

  28. The problem I see with this explanation is if all sins are already forgiven, then will be forgiven makes no sense. I mean it’s like if I told you you will be given a car that you already have. You’d be confused.

    • It depends on your definition of forgiveness. In the Bible, to forgive means to carry away as in carry your sins away, and Jesus did that already. His was a one-time sacrifice and he will never do it again. It’s a done deal. But if you don’t believe it, you won’t benefit from it. Forgiveness is a gift that needs to be received to be enjoyed. More here.

      • With all due respect you totally side stepped my point. I’m not saying Jesus didn’t forgive our sins. James here clearly says in the context that the forgiveness of this persons sins is included in the prayer. So if you say all of our sins past present and future are forgiven at the point we believe in Jesus. How can James say that the prayer of the elder will heal the person and also forgive their sins? Please answer this directly and don’t redirect the topic to a blog that doesn’t answer this.

      • As I say in the other article, there is a difference between giving and receiving a gift. The gift of forgiveness has been offered to all – there’s nothing you can do to make God forgive you – but not have received it. A better explanation is here.

  29. As I say, there’s a difference between giving and receiving a gift. The gift has been given; you still need to receive it. Forgivenness and every other blessing has been paid for at the cross; that doesn’t mean all have experienced or received those gifts.

  30. i found myself clapping in applause for this beautiful write-up! Thank you.

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