The Bible’s teaching on forgiveness can seem confusing. Even contradictory. In fact, over the years I’ve heard one question more than any other.
On one hand we have the marvelous promise that once we believe the gospel message—that Jesus died for our sins and rose again—we have forgiveness of all our sins.
All of them.
But that begs a question: If Jesus has already paid for our sins, why then does the Bible tell us to confess our sins for forgiveness?
It’s because the Bible teaches two kinds of forgiveness.
Do you understand the difference?
The First Kind of Forgiveness
Although we have sinned, Jesus shed His blood on the cross as our substitute to pay for our sins. When we believe in Him—when we trust Him for the forgiveness He offers by grace through faith—then we can know that our sins are forgiven (John 5:24).
This forgiveness occurs once—at the moment of faith—and it relates to our eternal forgiveness.
Paul wrote of:
[God’s] beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. —Colossians 1:13–14
This is fine for eternity. But what happens when we sin after we’ve trusted Christ?
The Second Kind of Forgiveness
The confusion occurs most often with this second kind of forgiveness. No one said it better than Jesus Himself:
If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. —Matthew 6:15
In short, if you as a Christian sin—for example, you bear a grudge against someone—you are still saved, but you are out of fellowship with God.
This kind of forgiveness is different from the kind that determines heaven and hell. It isn’t sought so that we’ll stay saved or regain our salvation. This forgiveness occurs many times—over the course of our lives—and it relates to our fellowship with God.
The Apostle John wrote:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. —1 John 1:9
James said it this way:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. —James 5:16
A Helpful Illustration
A simple example serves to illustrate the two types of forgiveness.
My daughter will always be my daughter. She is mine, and nothing she does can ever change that. But if she sins against me, then there is something between us until she confess and asks for forgiveness.
The two types of forgiveness are essential to understand:
- The forgiveness that occurs at the moment of faith relates to our eternal forgiveness.
- The forgiveness that occurs in our daily lives relates to our relational forgiveness—our fellowship with God.
Tell me what you think: What helps you understand the two types of forgiveness? To leave a comment, just click here.