Should We Pray For Forgiveness?

I have had the privelege of hearing Louie Giglio speak on several occasions, both at conferences here in Toronto and in the church he ministers at in Atlanta. He is a wonderfully gifted speaker and has the rare ability to hold thousands of people at rapt attention for as long as he cares to speak. Generally I was impressed with the content of his speeches as well, as his ministry seemed to be rooted in the Bible and not in the teachings of men.

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Recently Giglio spoke at the 2005 Purpose Driven Youth Conference and challenged the youth leaders in attendance to “remix” their prayer lives. He shared four remixed versions of typical cliché prayers many Christians regularly pray. They were: Instead of “Forgive me,” pray “Thank you for forgiving me.”; Instead of “Bless me,” pray “Let us bless you.”; Instead of “Lord, be with us,” pray “Lord, live through me.”; Instead of “Protect us,” pray, “use me.” This use of Christian clichés is of special interest to me, as I have long desired to write an article series on the amazing quantity of clichéd words and phrases Christians use with little understanding of their real meanings. While each of these four offers much to discuss, the first caught my attention more than the others and I would like to examine it today.

Giglio contends that Christians no longer need to ask God for forgiveness for our sins and raised several points in regards to this. First, he said that we do not need to ask for God’s forgiveness because God’s forgiveness has been extended to us once and for all. He cited the following passages:

1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Colossians 2:13 – “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

Second, Giglio taught that the Lord’s Prayer, as found in Matthew 6, does not serve as a rationale for continuing to ask God for forgiveness because it preceded the death and resurrection of Christ. This view is biblically indefensible, for Jesus’ teachings extend beyond the unique period of time where He was on the earth. While Jesus communicated directly to the men and women of the first century, His words have value and meaning to us today. Were we to accept Giglio’s teaching on this, it would mean that the value of the Lord’s Prayer is limited. Why would Jesus teach a prayer, without qualification, that was meant for only a brief period of time? Would Jesus have created a model prayer that was valid from only the years 30 to 32 A.D.? No! The Lord’s Prayer stands as a model of prayer for believers today as much as it did in Jesus’ day.

Third, Giglio believes that asking God for forgiveness insults Him. Because God has already forgiven us, He is insulted when we continually pester Him, asking for forgiveness anew.

Giglio concludes by saying that the post-resurrection model of how a Christian deals with sin is to confess it, repent from it (commit to not doing it again) and thank God for his forgiveness. He suggests that a “remixed” prayer might sound like this: “I sinned. Your spirit convicted me of that. I know it. I acknowledge what I did and I want to repent from it.”

In examining this issue, it is important to affirm that the believer has already been justified and there is nothing that can be added to this work of God. Forgiveness for the sins of believers happened in the past. And thankfully, it is not a prerequisite to being saved that Christians confess each and every sin, for if that were the case, none of us could be saved. We all commit sins every day that we forget or do not even realize are sinful! But does this mean that we do not need to seek forgiveness beyond what God has already offered us?

This ongoing sin forms the very basis for why we must continually ask forgiveness. The objective cleansing needs to be applied to us daily, just as we sin daily. “This petition supposes a sense, acknowledgment, and confession of sin, and of inability to make satisfaction for it; and that God only can forgive it, who does, for Christ’s sake, and on account of his blood, sacrifice, and satisfaction: what is here requested is a manifestation and application of pardon to the conscience of a sensible sinner; which, as it is daily needed, is daily to be asked for” (John Gill – Commentary on Matthew).

William Hendricksen provides the following helpful metaphor. “A father may have bequeathed a large inheritance to his son. It now very definitely belongs to the son. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the latter is immediately allowed to withdraw the entire huge amount from the bank and spend it all within one week. Very wisely the father included a stipulation limiting the widthdrawal privilege to a certain generous amount each month. So also when a person receives the grace of regeneration, this does not mean that all of that which Christ merited for him is immediately experienced by him. If it were, would it not overwhelm and crush his capacities? Rather, “He [God] giveth and giveth and giveth again.””

We have affirmed that asking God for forgiveness on an ongoing basis does not affect our standing of being justified before God. If we are not asking for forgiveness because it impacts our status before God, why do we ask it? Sin causes relationships to grow weaker and less-trusting. When we search our hearts and ask God to forgive our sins we are asking Him to restore us to a close relationship with Him. Humbling ourselves before God to ask His forgiveness will restore our day-by-day relationship with God. This is the point that Giglio seems to miss. Asking forgiveness of God is not asking Him to rejustify us, but to restore and renew our relationship.

Matthew Henry, in his Bible commentary writes, “Our sins are our debts; there is a debt of duty, which, as creatures, we owe to our Creator; we do not pray to be discharged from that, but upon the non-payment of that there arises a debt of punishment; in default of obedience to the will of God, we become obnoxious to the wrath of God; and for not observing the precept of the law, we stand obliged to the penalty. A debtor is liable to process, so are we; a malefactor is a debtor to the law, so are we. Our hearts’ desire and prayer to our heavenly Father every day should be, that he would forgive us our debts; that the obligation to punishment may be cancelled and vacated, that we may not come into condemnation; that we may be discharged, and have the comfort of it. In suing out the pardon of our sins, the great plea we have to rely upon is the satisfaction that was made to the justice of God for the sin of man, by the dying of the Lord Jesus our Surety, or rather Bail to the action, that undertook our discharge.”

I would like to comment briefly on Giglio’s suggested prayer before wrapping up. He suggests we pray like this, “I sinned. Your spirit convicted me of that. I know it. I acknowledge what I did and I want to repent from it.” I agree with everything he says in that prayer. It expresses confession, penitence and repentance. However, without asking God’s forgiveness it misses the crucial point we have discussed. Perhaps a better model would be, “I sinned. Your spirit convicted me of that. I know it. I acknowledge what I did and I want to repent from it. I ask you to forgive and restore me.”

Conclusion

I believe that while we must continue to believe that we have been justified and have had our sins forgiven in an objective sense, we must still ask God for forgiveness for sins as we commit them. By doing so we invite God to renew his relationship with us and to restore us to walking closely with Him.