It is a sad, but true, fact that Christians sometimes sin (1 John 1:5 - 2:2). From this passage we learn that only a liar would deny that he ever sins and that confessing our sins to Christ is required for Christians to obtain forgiveness.
The book of Acts records the occasion when a Christian, Simon the sorcerer, sinned before God and man (Acts 8:9-24). Simon sinned by attempting to purchase the power the Holy Spirit had given to the apostles and was destined to perish because of his sin, for his heart was not right with God (Acts 8:21). He was told to "repent" in order to be forgiven by God (Acts 8:22).
In order that we may appreciate the awfulness of sin and blessings of forgiveness, let us study what happens when Christians sin.
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel said, "when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die" (Ezek. 18:24).
Christians can depart from God and be hardened by sin. The Hebrew writer said, "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12).
Christians can also fall from grace (Gal. 5:4) and leave their first love (Rev. 2:4-5). Paul also warned, "let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).
There are some religious groups who teach that it is impossible to fall from grace. Sam Morris, a noted Baptist preacher, said: "We take the position that a Christian's sins do not damn his soul. The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people have nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul... All the prayers a man may pray, all the Bibles he may read, all the churches he may belong to, all the services he may attend, all the sermons he may practice, all the debts he may pay, all the ordinances he may observe, all the laws he may keep, all the benevolent acts he may perform will not make his soul one whit safer; and all the sins he may commit from idolatry to murder will not make his soul in any more danger... The way a man lives has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul... The way I live has nothing whatsoever to do with the salvation of my soul." (Do A Christian's Sins Damn His Soul?, Sam Morris, First Baptist Church, Stamford, Texas).
Christians are God's children, and as such we can go to our Father and ask His forgiveness -- we can address Him as "Our Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:8).
Christians are required to repent of their sins before God will grant forgiveness (Acts 8:22). Repentance is not just saying, "I'm sorry." The word "repent" "signifies 'to change one's mind or purpose,' always, in the NT, involving a change for the better, an amendment, and always, except in Luke 17:3, 4, of 'repentance' from sin." (Vine's Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words). Repentance is often described as "a change of heart that brings about a change in action." John the Baptist told the people to "bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:8). Repentance involves restitution (Lev. 6:1-7; Luke 19:8-9; Matt. 7:12).
Confession of our sins is also required before Christians can be forgiven, for John said, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). This is not a confession of faith in Christ, but confession of our sins. The word "confess" means "to confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of, the result of inward conviction" (Vine).
Prayer is a natural extension of repentance and confession (Acts 8:22). As Christians we have "an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1; Heb. 4:14-16).
King David of Israel provides a wonderful example of on individual who sought God's forgiveness by acknowledging his sins, turning away from them and asking God's forgiveness (Psa. 51:1-13).
There is not one example this side of Calvary where any non-Christian is told to "pray" as a part of his forgiveness. When Ananias came to Saul of Tarsus he found him praying. Every Baptist preacher I have ever met would have knelt down beside him and encouraged him to keep praying -- maybe he would eventually "pray through." However, Ananias told him to stop praying and start obeying! Ananis said, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
Some of the most beautiful and poetic passages in the Bible deal with the manner in which God forgives His repentant children.
The great prophet Micah said God "will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19). When God forgives us our sins will be removed "as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psa. 103:12). God will blot out our sins and remember them against us no more (Psa. 51:9; cf. Acts 3:19).
Our sins are wiped out of His memory, never to brought up again!
Some Christians are under the mistaken idea that we can or should forgive other people, regardless of whether God has forgiven them of their sins or not.
Yes, we are commanded to forgive others, for Jesus said, "Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37). Jesus also taught that "if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6:15; Mark 11:26). The parable of the unmerciful servant plainly shows that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others (Matt. 18:21-35).
However, we are to forgive other people only when they repent! The sinning brother must ask for forgiveness. "Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4).
Let me say it again -- the sinning brother must repent before you can forgive him (Luke 17:4). Remember that "repentance" includes restitution and amendment of life.
Picture what happens when you forgive someone that God has not yet forgiven. Suppose a person lies about you and you "forgive" them, even though they have not repented nor asked for your forgiveness. If you "forgive" this person it means that you are never going to bring this matter up to them again -- nor will you bring the matter up to others or yourself. However, after you have "forgiven" this person, they are still destined to perish, for "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Rev. 21:8).
The truth is that the best thing you could do for this person is to bring them back to God -- "if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).
It comes as a shock to many Christians, but there are some people we should not even pray for! When a brother or sister in Christ continues in their sin until their death, God has commanded us to not even pray for that person. "If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that." (1 John 5:16).
Let us all see the enormity of sin and willingness of our Father to forgive. God has set conditions for forgiveness of His erring children. When a Christian sins, he must repent and pray (Acts 8:22).
Non-Christians (those who can not call upon God as their "Father") must "repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
Have you been forgiven by God on the basis of His will?