Recently, somebody asked this question, “Can God forgive my sins even if I am failing repeatedly?” This is definitely a very practical issue many sincere and God-fearing people face. They are very much aware of their own failures in various aspects of life. They do not cover it up nor do they just ignore it as many prefer to do. They are conscious of the divine displeasure over evil whether it is just a thought or deed.
They are also aware of the forgiveness and cleansing available to the penitent sinner through the Lord Jesus Christ. But what puzzle them are the repeated failures and the subsequent shame and reluctance to approach God with a fresh appeal for forgiveness!
The basic problem here is that we try to figure out God and His works in our human point of view. That’s a very wrong method of understanding God. Notice what the Lord says, ‘"He will abundantly pardon. My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD.’ Isa. 55: 7c, 8. This is applicable in every area, including the way God deals with His people and their sin.
The way we look at the moral life of our fellow-beings and the way God views it are different. Jonah the prophet thought that the people of Nineveh should be punished for their evil and rebellion. But the Lord was so gracious to them when they repented, and this made Jonah even angry. Jonah 3:10; 4:1.
The motivating truth
Remember, as far as the fallen one is concerned, God’s forgiveness is a blessed and comforting thing. David from his own experience sings, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Psalm 32:1, 2. David admits that when he tried to hide sin. it destroyed his peace, joy and strength. He felt the hand of God heavy on him. But once he confessed, the Lord forgave him and that was a blessed experience indeed. Cf. Psa. 32: 3-5.
Also, the word of God exhorts us to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven us. Ephesians 4:32. Only when we really understand how God forgives our sins, we can show the same toward others and even our own selves! Then our response to God in worship and adoration also will be lively and worthy. Luke 7: 40 – 47.
So, for the sake of our own spiritual benefit as well as to maintain a right approach to the weak and failed fellow-beings it’s good to understand how God forgives a penitent sinner.
It’s a divine nature
Even from the Garden of Eden we see the mercy and kindness of God toward the guilty sinner. Though He pronounced curse on Adam and Eve for their disobedience and even cast them out of the garden, we do see the Lord’s mercy to them. The Lord graciously covered their nakedness which was the consequences of sin.
Right from there, throughout the pages of the scripture we see this divine action: punishing the guilty at the same time showing compassion to the repenting ones. If we carefully notice the divine judgments that fell on man from time to time, we can find God’s mercy intermingled in them.
While giving the Ten Commandments to Moses the Lord said, “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands…” Exo. 20: 5, 6. While revealing His name also the Lord referred to the same fact. Exo. 34: 5 -- 7.
God will never condone sin. Upholding His holiness and righteousness, the Lord does punish a sinner, yet He finds no pleasure in it. Ezek. 33:11. He does not afflict His people willingly. Lam. 3:33. His delight is in mercy and compassion. Micah 7:18. He always finds a way to forgive and restore those who repented of their sins. 2 Sam. 14:14. Even the afflictions that He allows in our lives are a means by which the Lord is correcting and transforming us. Psa. 119: 67; Heb. 12:10
It’s a distinguishing quality
After exposing the evil of Judah and its consequences, prophet Micah concludes with a note on God’s distinct quality of mercy and forgiveness. “Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy.” Micah 7:18
The evil life of the people of Judah resulted in severe punishment, yet there was hope for those who were ready to repent and return to God. So, Micah refers to the gods whom man invented in their imagination. Man could only portrait blood-thirsty, cruel gods who always punished people for any failure in fulfilling their religious rituals.
But the Lord God Almighty whom the Bible reveals is unique and incomparable. There is no one like our Lord who is the eternally existing living God and our creator as well as our sustainer. One of His unique characteristics is His willingness to pardon the iniquity and rebellion of His people.
He delights in mercy. What a wonderful feature it is. Our God finds pleasure in forgiving and saving the fallen one. He does not forgive us reluctantly. Notice the Lord Himself elaborates upon the way He forgives our sins.
It’s a definite action
The following scripture portions help us to understand how profound and definite is the forgiveness that we get from our God.
a. Psalm 103:12:- “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Once forgiven, we will never be able to confront our sins, for God has removed it from us to such a distance.
b. Isaiah 1:18: - "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” It’s a total cleansing for our life. White as snow and wool refers to the absence of anymore stain of sin.
c. Isaiah 38:17b:- “For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” Never to take it back.
d. Isaiah 43:25:- "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” Cf. Jeremiah 31:34c: If the Lord has promised to remember our sins no more why should we dwell on the past?
e. Micah 7:19b:- “he will tread our iniquities underfoot.” (ESV)
f. Micah 7:19c:- “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
Notice the way God forgives our sins. It’s not just for a time period, or a shallow show but sure, perfect, final, and evident. The only condition is to repent and confess our sins. Then there is complete cleansing from all our iniquities. Cf. 1John 1:9.
It’s more than pardoning
In the New Testament, a repentant sinner is not only forgiven and cleansed, but even declared innocent because of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 3: 24 – 26. This is what the doctrine of justification teaches us.
Remember, a forgiven criminal could be still remembered as a criminal. But, what God does in Christ is that not only He removes our sins and the subsequent punishment away but also gives us the righteousness of Christ so that we may have a right relationship with God. Cf. Romans 8:1; 2Cor 5:19, 21; Phil 3:9. (Isa 61:10)
This is God’s own work and nothing can separate us from this new relationship with the Lord. Rom 8: 33ff. Further the word of God speaks of the various ways God is protecting His people. The Spirit of God indwells them, they possess a divine nature, they have word of God to guide and cleanse and the Lord in glory interceding, etc. Cf. John 1:13; 10:28; Gal. 5:16; Eph. 1: 13, 14; Heb. 1: 14; 1Peter 1:5; 1John 3:9 etc.
However, if such a believer refuses to make use of these security measures, he/she may fail, and subsequently, the relationship is disturbed, though not broken. 2Tim. 2:21; Hebrews 12:14 etc. Such a believer will be ineffective and unfruitful for the Lord.
It’s an ongoing activity
What happens when such a saint fails again? Does God cancel all that He did for him so far, like salvation, justification etc.? There are some who consider so. But such a teaching is foreign to the New Testament teaching of salvation. Apostle John very clearly says, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1John 2:1
A believer should lead a holy life. 1John 3:9. He does not need to live in sin, yet there is a possibility due to the indwelling sin nature, the world we live in, and our adversary who is still active. However, there is solution for this: the efficacy of the atoning death of Christ and the ongoing intercessory prayer of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Approach Him for He ever lives to intercede for us with all sympathy toward us. Cf. 1John 1:7; Heb 4: 14ff; 7: 25. There is no limit or other conditions set other than repentance and confession. Any time one can draw unto Him to obtain mercy and find grace. Heb. 4:16.
It’s a costly matter
God’s forgiveness is definitely free but not without any cost. God never took evil lightly; sin was always dealt according to His righteous standard. The Old Testament sacrifices speak of the need of shedding the blood of an innocent animal for the sake of the penitent sinner. Leviticus 4:1ff.
All those offerings pointed to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that took away the sins of the whole world. John 1:29; Hebrews 10: 1 - 14. The Lord Jesus Christ offered His body as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind and by that one sacrifice perfected all who are being sanctified. The atoning sacrifice of Christ is effective even now; that’s why there is power in the blood of Christ to forgive and cleanse our sins even now. 1John 1:7.
It’s a humbling truth
Does it mean we can continue to sin and enjoy forgiveness from the Lord? Paul answers this question in Romans 6. Certainly not! How can we? A believer’s identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ makes it mandatory for him to live a righteous life. Rom. 6: 11 – 14.
Not only that, no true born again child of God will ever consider God’s gracious provision as a loophole to indulge in sin. 1John 3:9. Each time a Christian fails, the heart of God is grieved, the name of Christ is defiled and the church of Christ is weakened. We should never forget the bad outcome of our sin. That’s why even before we become weak and vulnerable, the Lord Jesus is pleading for us. Cf. Luke 22:32.
Never despise the riches of His goodness and longsuffering etc. Rom 2:5. The Lord’s loving kindness to forgive and cleanse us again should lead us to repent, return and humbly stay close to Him. For, it’s only by His grace and strength we can lead a holy life. Once we do that, we can surely say with Apostle Paul, “Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.” Rom 8:33
It’s a reassuring truth
The word of God also reveals the ongoing diabolic activities of our adversary. Reve. 12:10. He is looking for an opportunity to blame God’s people, either before God or to one another. Zechariah 3:1ff. He may even whisper in our ears reminding us our past failures or any perceived pitfalls. 1John 3:20.
In such circumstances, if we have already confessed and found forgiveness, we don’t need to pay any attention to the voice of the evil one. Our Lord is greater than our heart’s feelings. Our Lord’s response to Satan’s accusations against Joshua the high priest in Zechariah chapter 3 reveals how God responds to such satanic works. Note that true Christian life is not based on feelings but faith in the unchanging word of God. Trust what the scripture says and refuse to listen to the accuser of the brethren. Reve. 12:10
Let us praise and thank God for His amazing grace and loving kindness lavished upon us in our terribly helpless state. Never forget that we cherished and practiced a bundle of evils, yet the Lord graciously forgave and cleansed us. How can we forget the cost the Lord Jesus Christ had to pay, the blood that He shed that we may be clean and pure? With this realization, with all humility and fear, worship Him and walk in His ways. At the same time, let us exhibit this divine forgiving spirit toward one another.