I would like to open up about a spiritual impulse that came into my soul many years ago regarding the miracle of God’s forgiveness. So often in our prayers we ask God to forgive us for our sins and shortcomings, and of course, that’s directly from I John 1:9. “Lord, please forgive us.” “Yes, My child. I do. You are forgiven.”
But here is what developed into a dilemma for me as a child and even young adult. I became convinced that each time I sinned, I entered into an unforgiven state – even a “lost” state – until I had opportunity to say that quick prayer of supplication. Every slip-up, every moment of temper, had me feeling the chill of heaven’s abandonment until I could repent and get back into God’s good graces. One dilemma was that I was such a frequent offender that the I’m-sorry prayers became increasingly rote and despairing.
I think I was at PUC before I encountered “The Assurance of Salvation,” a wonderful little book by the late Richard NIes. He suggested, with a host of biblical evidence, that when even a fragile believer enters into a saving Calvary relationship with Jesus Christ, that person is then in an ABIDING and constant state of forgiveness. He or she is forgiven before even the moment of asking. There is no on-again, off-again fragility to the grace relationship.
This doesn’t negate the importance of coming to God on our knees with tears of repentance. We do need to be aware of our sins and their toxicity, that we are not fully respecting the sanctity of the relationship. But it is hurtful, Nies suggested, to think that God is up in heaven, waiting, delaying, withholding the blessing and relief of forgiveness, until we have opportunity to come to Him.
To illustrate, I still remember as a kid way back in our Thailand missionary days, lying in bed and feeling some childish guilt over a little naughty thing. Do I go tell Mom and Dad? Do I confess this? Well, I can’t sleep till I do! Plus . . . am I kind of “lost” until I make a confession? So I would trundle over to the master bedroom, wake them up, blurt out the little whatever, and Mom would say: “Oh, honey, of course we forgive you. Go back to sleep.” But the reality, of course, is that I was always forgiven, and always still her son. That was never once in jeopardy. It was an error to think I was in outer darkness until I clumped up the stairs to their throne of mercy.
This wonderful perspective, of course, entirely eliminates the fearsome idea of “what if you sin and then are hit by a bus?” Or what if something happens before you get the chance to repent? Would an arbitrary God consign unlucky Christian to lostness just due to unlucky timing? No.
So I try to imagine expressing a request for forgiveness under the generous perspective Dr. Nies opened up. Something like this, I guess. “Lord, You know how each of us has fallen. We’re fragile and we’re weak, and at such times what a comfort it is to know You still love us, and that we are always and forever Your children. Thank you for the gift of Your Son Jesus, which lets us abide in the ocean of Your forgiveness and grace. We know we’re forgiven even before we ask . . . but we still DO ask because we want to have repentant hearts. We want to grow into Your mature children, Your ever-more-faithful ambassadors. Make us sensitive to sin and appreciative of holiness.”
But how wonderful to know that the light bulb of salvation always burns brightly with Calvary love. It never flickers or goes out.