This article is an installment of Holy Joys Questions. Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: When a person receives forgiveness from the Lord for sin, does it include past, present, and future sin? If not, how is our life in Christ everlasting?
Let’s begin with a quick review of forgiveness. There are at least three components to forgiveness.
- First, according to Leviticus 5, when God forgives us He removes our guilt. Guilt is liability to punishment, not a bad feeling about what we did wrong. Forgiveness removes our liability to punishment.
- Second, the record of our sin is removed (Jer. 31:34; Psa. 32:2; 103:12). God does not “forget” anything. Forgiveness means God does not take into account the sins that have been confessed and forgiven when dealing with us.
- Third, we are reconciled to God. God restores us to relationship with Himself (Eph. 2:12-14; Rom. 5:10).
The relationship between Christ’s atonement and forgiveness is this:
- Christ’s atoning sacrifice was an infinitely sufficient provision on behalf of the sins of all humanity (1 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 2:2). God’s wrath was actually propitiated at Calvary only for sins that had been committed and confessed (Rom. 3:25-26). God’s wrath was provisionally propitiated for all men’s sins.
- God applies Christ’s atonement only to those who evidence their faith in Christ by confessing and forsaking their sins (1 Tim. 4:10).
- Only sins that have actually been committed up to the point of repentance and faith are forgiven. For sins to be forgiven which have been committed after salvation, there must be repentance. There is no forgiveness apart from repentance (Heb. 6:4-6).
- As we walk in the light with God—doing right and avoiding all known sin—the blood of Jesus Christ His Son is cleansing us from all past sin as well as present sins we may commit unknowingly (1 John 1:7). It does not cleanse us from sin we have not committed (future sin).
God’s wrath was provisionally propitiated for all men’s sins.
The claim that God forgives our sins, past, present and future may come from several different angles. Some argue that Peter’s statement “he bore our sins in his body on the tree” means Jesus actually paid the penalty for all our sins and, therefore, God’s wrath was satisfied and our sins were all forgiven at Calvary. This is incorrect and necessarily leads either to universalism, Calvinism, or double indemnity (both Christ and the sinner are punished for the same sin).
A second argument in support of forgiveness of sins, past, present, and future relates to your second question, “How is this everlasting life?” Some claim that since Christ is the source of “eternal salvation” for all those who obey Him (Heb. 5:9), once a person is saved, they cannot be lost and this must imply that all their sins have been forgiven. This argument involves a misunderstanding of the biblical words “eternal” or “everlasting.”
When we use the words “eternal” or “everlasting,” we usually mean “without end” or “never ending.” However, John 17:3 tells us that eternal life is knowing God. Eternal life is not unending existence. Those who go to Hell have unending existence. Eternal life is a relationship with God through Christ that has no inherent ending point.
Adam had eternal life in the John 17:3 sense. He was in relationship with God. But by choosing to willfully rebel, he terminated his relationship with God. So too, we can choose to terminate our eternal life, that is, our relationship with God. Eternal salvation is a salvation that has no inherent ending point for those that obey Him. If we cease to obey Him, we can terminate our saving relationship with Him.
A third argument is based on Heb. 10:14, “by one offering he perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Some claim that since Christ’s self-sacrifice perfected us, all our sins must be forgiven. Heb. 10:14 actually teaches the same thing as Rom. 8:29-30—all the benefits of Christ’s atonement are provisionally ours the moment we’re saved, i.e., we are positionally perfected.
However, we receive those benefits in a God-determined sequence. Forgiveness applies only to sins committed, confessed, and renounced.
Thank God for His forgiveness!
Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.