This is actually written to the MANY (millions?) of Christians who struggle with whether their forgiveness is for real, permanent, or has been or will be forfeited for SOME reason or another even though they were or are "Christians." This is a MAJOR issue to resolve.
So first let's establish that when you believe... you ARE forgiven of "all" sins. That is stated in Col. 2:13-14:
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh,
hath he quickened (made alive) together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us,
and took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross."
I would guess that most people who doubt their forgiveness are not struggling with whether or not they believe in God or
Christ, or even the cross...but whether the shed blood is going to cover a MAJOR sin....a REPEATED sin... an UNCONFESSED sin...etc. So we need to be sure of JUST HOW MUCH that shed blood covers. Keep in mind that every sin (past, present, future) was paid for IN ADVANCE on the cross in terms of sequence.
Another name for this salvation/forgiveness package is "eternal life". It refers to a spiritual life of personal relationship with Christ. The basis of receiving it is believing. (John 1:12, 3:16, 5:24) Simple statement, but if that is how you get it... the only way to lose it would be to go out the same door you came in: Unbelief (not some sin). But even IF that nullified salvation, then the title "eternal life" would be a lie, wouldn't it? God has built into His plan some safeguards against your just walking out so that this TITLE for salvation is not a lie!. Eternal life IS eternal. You know, God knew every sin you would sin BEFORE He ever brought you to Himself, and offered you salvation. Your sins and failings do not catch Him by surprise.
One safeguard is against SIN separating us from God. We see this in Romans 8:1-2 where we see that one "law" or principle frees us from another law or principle.
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,
who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus
hath made me free from the law of sin and death. "
When you define the two laws, the picture becomes clear... spiritual life in Christ means no more spiritual death, which is essentially SEPARATION from God.
The first law is that spiritual life is in Christ...
The second law is that sin leads to spiritual death (separation from God - Romans 3:23).
If the FIRST law applies to you... the SECOND principle does NOT apply to you(spiritual death) This is a powerful promise.
NOTHING, including sin, keeps us away from God. He is in us and never leaves nor forsakes us (Heb. 13:5) The listing at the end of Romans 8 of all that cannot separate us from the love of God was until recently a bit of a mystery to me because I wanted it to say that nothing can separate us from God HIMSELF. But being "close" to a God who is angry at my sin is no fun. The REASON God chooses to act in grace and mercy and to forgive is because of His LOVE....so.... as long as that LOVE is in place, we are secure in it. It is the underlying foundation that assures the ongoing relationship, the forgiveness, the grace that we do not deserve...the whole package! Think about it. If your child messes up and disobeys...you don't disown him or her... why? Because you LOVE the brat.
You know...(getting personal) I have a son who has more or less (unjustly) "disowned" me....causing years of pain. I have learned however, that because of God's Spirit in me...I STILL love him, and would reconcile with Him in a flash if he was willing. If that is the weak human response, we can be VERY sure of God's promises to NEVER stop loving us and thus NEVER turn us out.
OK...what about MAJOR sin? We tend to categorize... if someonel overeats (gluttony) that is not worth even calling a sin...for many. But fornication and adultery and homosexuality? Top of the list along with murder, right? But it has NOTHING to do with how much impact a sin has on how many people... it says in James 2:10 that just one sin is enough to keep us out. "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, but offend in one point, he is guilty of all." The whole law would include little sins as well as big ones... sins like anger, worry, fear... So let's establish the fact that with God... this sin issue is an ALL OR NONE issue.
Does God forgive sins after we are saved if we REPEAT them? I would suggest that if He doesn't forgive them, heaven will be totally empty of people because most everyone has SOME thing in life they have not overcome. Again, it isn't how many times we do or do not sin. Col. 2:13 says ALL sins are forgiven.
Does God forgive sins we fail to CONFESS or REGRET? Obviously if we truly regretted a sin we would not repeat it. But think about it: some sins we enjoy. So expressing regret might be a lie.
This idea of confessing is always tied to I John 1:9. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." But if you study the historical background and the context, meaning primarily the verses before and after this verse, we find that it seems to be addressed to people who were denying they had a sin nature or that they were committing sinful acts. THAT would disqualify them from being Christians, because what we come to God for is forgiveness of our SINS. To say we have none would mean we need no Savior. But that WAS the case with the gnostics John was addressing this epistle to in part. God can't forgive such a person unless and until they ADMIT they NEED the forgiveness. So... aside from this verse, do we have a Biblical requirement to confess all sins to STAY forgiven? I do not know of any. There is nothing wrong with admitting our sins as Christians (the word confess in I John 1:9 means to speak the same). And regret ought to be a spontaneous heart response. But is it a requirement to stay saved? No verse I know of makes it a requirement. And we can rejoice about that because there are many of the "lesser" sins we commit including the "omission" sins that we never even THINK to confess. Have you confessed all the improper thoughts of the last day that do not fit with the Phil. 2:8 command to think on the things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report? I am not sure I have ever confessed thoughts that don't fit this command.
The basis of forgiveness is faith in the shed blood as sufficient to cleanse from all sin. THAT is what God wants you to believe. As I look at the picture presented to us of the old testament law covenant it becomes clear. The nation as a whole stood in fellowship with God and forgiven of all sins based on just one thing: the shed blood of animals. The day of atonement sacrifice was a once-for-all-people and a once-for-a-year event. If the priest came back out of the holy of holies alive and sat down, it was FINISHED! I picture people back then who repeated their sins, did not regret them, and certainly didn't confess them, yet on the day of atonement ALL were forgiven. In the same way, Jesus came back out of his sacrificial event alive and has now sat down on the right hand of God... IT IS FINISHED...all because of the shed blood. THAT is to be the object of our faith!
My favorite thing to teach is the doctrine of imputed righteousness, because it is another way of CEMENTING our faith in the shed blood as SUFFICIENT to not just save us but KEEP us saved/forgiven and destined for heaven....GUARANTEED! Click here to learn more about this blessed doctrine.
Now, with that foundational concept in place, consider what the Bible SAYS we should do when we as Christians sin. I John 1 makes it clear that we are liars if we say we don't sin. So what IS IT that is required? I John 2:1 starts out with these words: IF ANY MAN SIN....
Now before I quote the rest of it, consider what the various churches might write here to finish the statement.... let him confess it, confess to a priest, repent, regret it, promise not to repeat it, make restitution, renew his baptism covenant, partake of eucharist, be sure to have the extreme unction at the end... and follow Christ by obeying ALL the commandments til then.
OK...what DOES it ACTUALLY say?
"If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous, and HE is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
Jesus Christ the righteous, and HE is the propitiation for our sins:
and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
So the remedy for a Christian who sins isn't tied to anything WE do, but to what Christ has already done. The word propitiation refers to a fully satisfactory sacrifice...justice done. The word advocate means a lawyer. We do not have to defend ourselves. Our lawyer is in "close" with the judge. The only reason for this terminology is that we have an enemy who is the "accuser of the brethren." So if he accuses us to the Father, Jesus can (figuratively) step up and say, "I already paid for that sin." It will always be "Case dismissed."
What about the Lord's prayer requirement to forgive others in order to be forgiven? This was written before the cross, during the "law" covenant period, and one of the reasons it was given as a requirement was to convict legalistic Jews of their failure to keep the HEART of God's covenant requirements. It is a bit like the statement that if our eye offends us we should pluck it out. Really? Is that what we do now?
"But it's the Lord's prayer!" It was given under the law to Jesus' disciples but if you study the prayers of Paul spelled out in the epistles, you will see an entirely different focus. In part, the prayer is an indication that we sin not only in word or deed, but in heart and attitude. So how do I know this forgive-to-be-forgiven statement does not apply now? Because the NEW covenant order is stated in Eph. 4:30 where we are told to forgive BECAUSE we have been forgiven rather than IN ORDER to gain or maintain forgiveness. I realize many are "tied" emotionally to this prayer, or ritual, and I have wrestled with this too. But I have concluded that if we do not choose to SEPARATE the old covenant time period from the new covenant time period, we are GOING TO BE CONFUSED. The new covenant could not take effect (see Heb. 9:16-17) until after Christ's death. The NEW covenant statement of God to us is in Heb. 10:17 and it is this:
"And their sins and iniquities I will remember no more."
Note there are no "if's" here. It is the "offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" that we are to trust in (Heb. 10:10).
I think many of us have a MUCH more difficult time forgiving ourselves than God has in forgiving and no longer remembering our sins. We need to see ourselves as God chooses to see us... "perfected for ever" by the offering of Christ (10:14)
My prayer is that people will be able to rejoice in and enjoy their salvation package and not just be haunted with doubts about where they stand with God. God isn't mad at us. Romans 8:1-2 says there is no condemnation towards us. His anger or wrath was poured out on Christ when He died for our sins. He DOES grieve when we make choices that end up hurting us or others. But He has chosen to give us the Spirit to abide with us forever in SPITE of our sins.
This is not an invitation to sin-sin-sin. God DOES discipline his children on earth....but He doesn't disown them. The truth is that once we allow God's Spirit to enter our life by trusting in Christ, that Spirit in us changes our want-to, so we are not going to be looking for loopholes in order to do all the sin we can get away with. We will want to love and serve God out of THANKFULNESS for the gift of forgiveness and eternal life and His abiding presence in us.
For further study on whether or not one can lose salvation, Click here.