“I know that if I just ask God for forgiveness, He will forgive me.”
This is one of the most common responses when sharing the gospel with folks. Shockingly, the response above is most often given by those who claim to be believers but show no understanding of God’s character.
Sadly, this demonstrates the state of the American church today. We’ve become a church culture so “gospel-less” that the average person who attends church cannot articulate the true, biblical gospel.
Most people believe that they are heaven-bound because:
- They attend church and have been baptized or they do good works.
- They have asked God to forgive them.
Let’s focus on the second response since this is one that is most common.
One way I like to share the gospel is to turn it around and get people to share it with me. I’ll tell them that I have lived a horrible life and I have three minutes to live and desire to be forgiven. I’ll ask them to tell me how I can be forgiven and go to heaven. What I most often get is a simple, “just ask God to forgive you and He will.” I’ll ask, “is that all I have to do?” They respond, “yep!”
This is where there is an inadequate understanding of God and how He is revealed in Scripture.
God is a forgiving God. The Bible tells us He is. But the Bible also clearly tells us that God is also just and He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. (Exodus 34:6-8) He is a just Judge and must deal with sin.If He just forgave us of our sins without dealing with our sins then He would be unjust, unholy and frankly a very bad judge.
One of the greatest questions that fallen humanity must ask is, “how can God be just and the justifier of the wicked?” This truly is the ultimate question.
So, this causes a dilemma. If we really begin to delve into God forgiving sinners, we must ask how He can justly forgive sinners without there being a penalty paid for the sin? How can God be just and the justifier of the guilty?
Let’s take a look at Proverbs 17:15
“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” (Proverbs 17:15, ESV)
This verse teaches us that it is an abomination to God if the wicked are justified and the righteous are condemned. So then, based on this verse if an unbeliever were to simply ask God to forgive him, and God did, then God would be going against His own word and would be an abomination in His own eyes.
Here is where the gospel shines with all its glorious splendor. God can and does forgive sinners but only if our sin is dealt with and His justice is satisfied.
It is impossible for us to do anything to satisfy that debt since we are already sinners and even our most contrite and heartfelt sorrow is in itself tainted with sin. The only solution is for someone who is without sin to stand in our place and satisfy God’s righteous wrath. What we need is a great transaction.
This is exactly what Christ did for us.
“He made Him who new no sin to become sin on our behalf so we might have the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:21 ESV)
Christ is the answer to how God can be just and the justifier of sinners. The Father imputed all the sins of the elect on Christ on the cross (allowing Christ Himself to remain perfectly sinless) and poured out all the wrath on Christ in our stead. We must be careful never to think that Christ was an unwilling participant in this plan. Before time began, the Trinity planned this great event and Christ was a willing substitute for our sin as the Last Adam. It demonstrates our triune God’s great love for us. (Romans 5:8)
This way, God is just and has dealt with our sin. No created thing will ever be able to point the finger at God and accuse Him of being unjust in saving His people. The other side of this amazing transaction is that through repentance and faith, Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to us. When God looks on believers He sees the perfect, spotless righteousness of His Son.
So, God does forgive sin but only through the glorious substitutionary death of His Son. No amount of tears, good works or begging for forgiveness outside of faith in Christ will work.
Think about it this way. If God just forgave everyone who asked without a penalty for sin being due, then Christ died needlessly. (Galatians 2:21) If God could just sweep our sin under the “celestial rug” and not deal with it taking only our plea for forgiveness, then Christ’s death was pointless. The cross demonstrates to us not only the love of God but also His justice.
But isn’t there a verse in the Scriptures that promises if we confess our sin God will forgive us?
“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, ESV)
There is a problem though. This verse is not written to unbelievers. It applies only to believers in Christ Jesus. There is a very important little four letter word in this verse that is essential to our understanding of the gospel. That little word is just.
John tells us that if believers will confess their sins to God as Father that He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. He can only be just in forgiving us our sins because Christ has stood in our place and bore His wrath. So this verse is speaking of the constant need for believers to confess their sins to God so that fellowship with Him is unhindered. An unbeliever cannot claim the promises of this verse since he is not covered under the atoning work of Christ.
I hope that as you’ve read through this that you will marvel with me at the wisdom of God in the gospel. Marvel at His grace and mercy but be aware that His grace and mercy are made available only through the cross-work and merit of Christ Jesus.
If you have thought all along that you could simply ask God for forgiveness outside of Christ, then turn in repentance and faith to the only One who can save you – Jesus Christ. If you have been trusting in yourself, your own works, attending church or doing good things, turn from them and put your faith and trust in Christ Jesus alone.
Cry out to God to open your eyes to the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6) that you may embrace Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Today is the day of salvation!