Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “There is a wide distinction between confessing sin as a culprit and confessing sin as a child. The Father’s bosom is the place for penitent confessions. We have been cleansed once for all, but our feet still need to be washed from the defilement of our daily walk as children of God.” [“Morning and Evening,” written by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg. © 2003, Good News Publishers]
That may resolve quite nicely the tension followers of Christ sometimes feel between His words in the Gospels and the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans.
Paul wrote, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 NIV),” but Jesus said, “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:15 NIV).” Paul wrote in the context of praying in the Spirit, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us (Romans 8:31 NIV)?” However, Jesus said, “when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins (Mark 11:25 NIV).”
Are there two kinds of situations in which we seek God’s forgiveness?
It may not be helpful to create such a distinction, but the reality of life as a believer and the testimony of the Scriptures is that there is a distinction to be made between two different persons seeking God’s forgiveness – between the “culprit” and the “child.”
- The culprit seeks a forgiveness that is judicial – a pardon for sin that will free him from the sentence of death and eternal separation from God.
God’s forgiveness because of Christ’s death on our behalf “justifies” us forever. We speak of this justification powerfully moving us from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light, or lovingly moving us from being lost in ourselves to being found and made part of His eternal family, or resurrecting us from being dead spiritually to being living temples of the Holy Spirit. For the believer in Jesus Christ, the Scriptures are quite clear there will never will be any judicial condemnation that can separate us again from God and eternity with Him.
Jesus said in John 5:24, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life (NIV).” Paul echoed his Lord’s words in Romans 3:21-26 stating “all those who believe” are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” The presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life is the decisive factor. With Him present, there is no possible way to fall into eternal condemnation ever again (Romans 8:1-4; Ephesians 1:13-14).
For the culprit, the essence of seeking forgiveness is a repentant heart.
Jesus, echoing the words of the prophets, came preaching repentance. Repentance is the essence of forgiveness for the penitent culprit-sinner-enemy of God seeking His forgiveness, and it still holds true today. See Isaiah 30:15; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 5:31-32; 24:46-48; and Acts 2:37-39.
- The child seeks a forgiveness that is “familial” – an “okay” from the Spirit of the Lord.
Reconciling “hugs” from our Heavenly Father frees the child of God to thrive in God’s love. Familial forgiveness enables us to enjoy the blessing of a restored fellowship with Him free of any strain (that strain which hid God’s face for a season). The relationship after the forgiving hug from the Lord is the more intimate and deeper kind of a tested relationship that lasts forever.
For the child, prayer seeking a complete, love-saturated acceptance is the essence of seeking forgiveness.
In prayer we seek the same familial unity with Jesus that He enjoyed with His Heavenly Father (John 17). It is the basis for the Lord’s teaching on prayer, and truly the basis for humility before God in all things. The child seeking forgiveness is actually walking out the repentance that first brought him to Christ, and is finding rest in the absolute and total love of God that sent Jesus to the Cross on our behalf. See John 17:20-26; Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:24-26; and compare with 1 John 1:5-10 and Romans 6:8-19.
The story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32 illustrates why and how the believing child of God will always seek the best of relationships with his Heavenly Father. The returning son said humbly, “Father, I have sinned,” but the beauty of the story is in the healing forgiveness and grace flowing from the father’s heart of love for his son. The father’s loving forgiveness restored his son completely and represents exactly what we seek when seeking God’s forgiveness.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him…”
Are there two kinds of situations in which we seek God’s forgiveness? It may not be helpful to create such a distinction, but the reality of life as a believer and the testimony of the Scriptures is that there is a distinction to be made between two different persons seeking God’s forgiveness – between the “culprit” and the “child.”
Recommended resource: https://www.truthforlife.org/?date=2/26/2018
Whether it’s accusations from the enemy or our own troubled conscience, many of us feel like we’re living under a guilty verdict. In a sermon from Romans 8:33-36 entitled “Case Closed,” Alistair Begg provides biblical evidence to set us free!