Forgiveness. At one point or another, we’ve all needed it. We’ve fallen short, hurt someone we loved, broken a promise, fallen into a behavior pattern or habit we shouldn’t. When we come face-to-face with our own shortcomings, one of the most frequent questions and cries in the human heart is, “Will God forgive me?” In our own minds, it’s very easy to make our sin beyond forgiveness; to believe that we’ve just messed up so many times, or in such terrible ways, that God is done with us entirely.
But is that truth? Or is that a lie that keeps our hands tied, preventing us from reaching our maximum potential as followers of Jesus and children of God? Who stands to gain when we’re bound in defeat like that?
Definitely not you. Definitely not those around you. And certainly not God, who wants freedom for His people.
If you find yourself caught in the trap of believing you’re one of those beyond forgiveness—or if you’re beginning to wonder if you are—it’s time to explore the subject a little deeper. Let’s look at God’s own Word and His deeds to learn if forgiveness is possible for you, for me, for anyone. And if it is, then let’s find out how to attain forgiveness!
What Is Forgiveness?
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “forgiveness” as “the act of forgiving; to cease to feel resentment against (an offender); to give up resentment of or claim to requital for; to grant relief from payment of.”
Wow! Talk about a clean slate. It doesn’t get much fresher than that. So, what we’re really saying when we seek forgiveness—and what we really know, deep down, that we require—is to be released from the weight of resentment for an offense we’ve created, to have our debts removed and the need for requital lifted from our shoulders. And no wonder we feel that need so deeply, given that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)!
Forgiveness is not exactly a small request, knowing how often we fall short! To attain it, something has to cover that burden of debt, requital, and offense—and the wonderful thing is that God, knowing the price for forgiveness of sins, already sent His Son over 2000 years ago to pay that cost. Because of Jesus’s blameless life and sacrificial death, under his lordship we have claim to the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 4:32).
In short, that means that because Jesus paid the cost for every debt, every burden, every resentment and offense, when we step under the covering power of His shed blood, we enter into the forgiveness bought by that sacrifice. Hallelujah!
How Do I Know God Will Forgive Me?
There are two ways to know God will forgive you: His infallible promises, and His proven track record. In word alone, He reassures us many times of His forgiveness: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9); as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Col. 3:13); In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7)—just to name a few!
We also see his forgiving nature in action Throughout the Bible, God forgives the sins of countless people, including the Nation of Israel, King David, the Apostle Paul (then called Saul), Moses and Aaron, and countless others. Each of these people sinned—sometimes quite egregiously!—yet when they confessed those sins and turned back to God, He faithfully forgave them; which, as we’ve seen above, in essence amounted to a slate wiped clean.
This is an incredible testament to God’s love, to the cleansing power of Jesus’s sacrifice that paid the wages of our sin, and to the availability of forgiveness. It’s not something retained merely for those who commit what could be dubbed “minor spiritual infractions”—a little white lie, a prolonged absence from gathering with fellow believers, a stray angry thought. Many whom God has forgiven did far worse than these; but when they confessed those wrongdoings, God’s forgiveness was immediately extended to them. There is no blemish so dark that the blood of the Lamb can’t turn it white as snow.
God’s promises AND His actions are proof—He has always been a God who extended great love and forgiveness to His people. He will forgive us, too!
What Do I Need to Do to Be Forgiven?
One thing to understand about forgiveness is that it isn’t something that just happens. We need to confess our sins and seek forgiveness for them. Now, even if we don’t, we are still covered by the blood of Jesus when we confess him as Lord and receive salvation, meaning we won’t perish on the Day of Judgement for those sins; however, God makes it clear in His Word that the sins we cling to and refuse to repent of will have an effect on our eternal future—whether it’s the pain of passing through the refiner’s fire, the loss of rewards, or even a demoted rank within His future Kingdom. Unrepented sin does carry consequences…and not just in eternity, either. When we hold onto sin, either leaving it unconfessed or choosing to remain in it, it will have deleterious effects on us in this life—whether that be mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc.
If you find yourself starting to get nervous—like how do I confess every single sin I’ve ever done, how am I supposed to remember all of them?!—don’t fret! Confession doesn’t require a detailed list of everything you may or may not have done wrong. When I was young, my father taught me his daily prayer of confession, which I’ve modified for my own prayer life:
“God, I’m so sorry for anything I’ve done to hurt or offend You, Your Son, or Your people today. Please forgive me and help me to do better tomorrow.”
Praying a prayer like this, with a sincere heart to want to surrender those mistakes and to actually allow God to lead you into avoiding them and walking even just a little better tomorrow, is a fantastic way to begin seeking forgiveness!
Now, you might also have some bigger matters in your life that you know need confessing and forgiving. In that case I deeply encourage you to take those matters to God in deep prayer, getting down on your knees, giving them up, and asking for forgiveness. Don’t be surprised if this proves to be a difficult, possibly embarrassing, even soul-wrenching experience. It’s supposed to be! It’s not an easy thing to lay our imperfections before a perfect God; but it’s a necessary thing to attain the forgiveness we so deeply desire.
I’ve Been Forgiven—Now What?
In the record of the woman caught in adultery in the Gospel of John, after telling her he does not condemn her, Jesus offers this parting missive: “Go and sin no more!”
This extends to all of us. It’s a dishonor to God if we seek remittance of a particular sin, only to turn around and do it over again knowing forgiveness waits in the wings. The point of true confession and seeking of forgiveness is that we resolve to do better—to not stumble back down that road. To give up that thing which we need to be forgiven of, and pursue a better, clearer, more godly way.
So when you find that forgiveness you seek, now it’s time to use that blank slate well. Write something new on it; write the story of how you used absolution to better serve God. Continue to pray for His help and deliverance to never see that sin repeated, and when other mistakes and flaws present themselves, continue to confess those, too.
Remember that God admonishes us to forgive for times beyond counting; He behaves toward us the same. Don’t let yourself believe the lie that you are beyond forgiveness, beyond redemption, beyond salvation.
Take hold of the forgiveness God offers through the cleansing blood of His Son’s sacrifice, and by its light, make a better path to a better, brighter future.