What Does it Take for God to Forgive You?
January 1, 2017
Suppose you saw Jesus sitting down and talking with someone. Curious, you sneak up and eavesdrop, and you are surprised to hear them talking about you!
If this would happen, what do you think Jesus would be saying about you? Would He be praising you for your good works and faithfulness? Would He be speaking of your need to repent and turn from sin or from dead works?
Many people think that getting right with God is something you do over the span of your lifetime. You go to church, get baptized, say your prayers, confess your sins, obey the commandments, live better than the rest of the world, and hopefully by the time you die you will be good enough for God to accept you. If you are spending your life like that, you cannot and will not know until you die whether or not you will make it into heaven.
However, some people want to know before they die whether or not they are forgiven. Is their desire unfounded? Is it possible to know before death that we have been forgiven?
Many young people hope when they get baptized, they will experience a washing away of their old life and a new beginning with a new heart and a new nature. They are usually disappointed. I heard that one man fasted and prayed for days seeking assurance of salvation. Nothing happened. He, like most people, has given up on finding something so wonderful as the peace and joy that comes through forgiveness and eternal life. They have settled down to a life of doing the best they can, hoping they will make it in the end. But under such a belief, there is as much a chance that they will end up in hell as in heaven. How can they have peace with God when they live in fear and confusion every day, wondering if they are being good enough to please Him?
Years ago, I, too, went on a mission to get God to save me. I had found a verse that says we can know we have eternal life:
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life…” (1 John 5:13).
I begged and prayed and confessed my sins to get God’s attention, but as hard as I tried, I could not get Him to give me the assurance that He promised in in that verse of scripture.
What about you? What do you think it takes to get God to forgive you?
Did you know there is a conversation recorded in the Bible in which Jesus talks about us? He didn’t mention any names, but He used the word Gentiles. That would include us. In that conversation, Jesus mentioned forgiveness of sins. Before we see what He said it takes to get Him to forgive us (if anything), let us put everything on the table that we have been taught: faith, repentance, prayers, confessions, baptism, our works–everything—and see if it lines up with the conversation.
The conversation is recorded in Acts 26. Go ahead and read it for yourself.
The man who spoke with Jesus was Paul. They weren’t sitting together somewhere, for Paul was lying on the ground and Jesus was in heaven. Years later, Paul told the story of this conversation to a king named Agrippa. He told the king that he used to persecute Christians, but that something had happened to him one day on his way to another city to hunt down more followers of Jesus. We’ll let Paul take up the story from here.
And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me (Acts 26:11-18).
Here was Paul in an all-out war against the Christians. Jesus took that personally, yet He stopped Paul and talked to him about turning people to God. Paul didn’t have much to say in the conversation. He said only four words! What is of interest to us is what Jesus said about forgiveness of sins. First, notice that nobody was asking Jesus to forgive anybody. Paul wasn’t begging and praying, “Oh God, have mercy on us poor sinners!” Jesus needed no persuasion to talk about the subject. The second thing I want to point out is that Jesus said nothing about giving them forgiveness of sins. That’s right. He did not say, “I will forgive them, if.…” He said, “That they may receive forgiveness of sins.”
Since He said nothing about giving forgiveness, but only that they receive forgiveness, we can see that the giving part was already a done deal for Jesus. The only thing required yet was getting people to receive it.
Now back to my personal story. During all the time I was asking and begging and confessing to try to get God to forgive me, Jesus had already provided forgiveness for me.
When Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), He meant it. The work of salvation was done. There is nothing more we can do or add to it. It is finished.
While people have been trying to persuade Jesus to give them forgiveness of sins, He has been trying to persuade them to receive forgiveness of sins—to simply trust in Him and in what He has done! As you read this, know that God has already loved you and put all your sins on His innocent Son, the Lord Jesus (Isaiah 53:6). Since He has already done it, it doesn’t take your faith to make Him do it! He’s just been waiting on you to find out what He did and to believe it.
I will give a true-life illustration that might help to explain this. One day I went to a restaurant and ordered a meal. In doing so, I had a bill to pay. That bill had to get paid or I would have owed a debt to the restaurant; but before I was done eating, the waitress came and announced to me that someone else had paid my bill for me! Another man’s money made me right with the restaurant before I was even aware of it. My faith didn’t move him to pay. The announcement of his payment moved me to believe. This illustrates the gospel quite accurately. While we were facing death for our sins, God, out of His great love for us, gave His Son to die in our place. The Holy Spirit then comes and announces to us through the gospel that our sins have been paid for. We believe in response to what has already been done.
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister (Colossians 1:20-23).
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life (Romans 5:8-10).
So, if you happened to hear a conversation between Jesus and another man, you wouldn’t hear Jesus say a word about what you must do to get Him to forgive you. He would show His nail-scarred hands and say, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matthew 9:2).
There is nothing as wonderful as knowing that God is happy with you because Jesus has taken your sins away. This is not just a belief. Many have experienced this and you can, too.
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin (Romans 4:6-8).
Maybe you’ve been trying to get right with God by your own good works. Do you not realize that the bill is much higher than your good works could ever pay? The bill is so high that only Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, could pay it.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).
Well, then, what do you about this? You have sinned and have a debt that you will never be able to pay. You are a sinner in need of a Savior. You may not be able to pay, but you can pray. Sincerely and humbly tell God the truth of your predicament. He knows. He cares. He sent His Son to pay for your sins—to do what you could not do yourself. You can pray something like this:
Thank You for putting all my sins upon Your innocent Son Jesus, so that You can put His righteousness upon me as a free gift. I believe that when He died and was buried, my sins were buried with Him. When He arose from the dead, He came up without my sins. I do not trust in my own works or religion to get me to heaven, but I now trust in the blood and righteousness of Your Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank You that He is seated on Your right hand as the go-between to keep me right with You forever. I believe that I am forgiven and that You are completely happy with me through the blood and righteousness of Jesus. I want to live for You forevermore. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen!
For further verification, read the following portions of the Bible:
- Romans 3:20-28
- Romans 4-5
- Colossians 1
- Ephesians 1-2
- Hebrews 9-10
- The gospel of John
Read them with the following questions in mind concerning salvation:
- How did He do it?
- What made Him do it?
- Is it something He will do, or something He has done already?
- What do those scriptures say we have to do?
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me.
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