Praying for Forgiveness

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(1 John 1:5-10)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is on prayer and in this series, we are particularly focusing on praying for things. If you struggle with prayer, if you struggle with seeing your prayers answered, then this is a great series to learn from God’s word not only what you should be praying but also how you should be praying.

Last week we looked at a number of principles that apply to praying for things in general. Over the next six weeks we are going to look at praying for various specific things – praying for forgiveness, praying for healing, praying for victory over sin, praying for church and family, praying for the lost and praying for missions. Of course there are many other things we can be praying for as well, but those are some very important things that God tells us we should be praying for in his word.

Today we are talking about praying for forgiveness. We will look at a number of Scriptures throughout the course of the message, but we will begin with these verses from 1 John 1. (Read 1 John 1:5-10 and pray.)

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So, today we are talking about praying for forgiveness. There is nothing more important you can pray for than forgiveness, and in fact, until you pray for forgiveness, you can’t pray for anything else anyways. This is where it all begins.

We are all sinners. Even after we come to Christ we continue to sin. And so, it is essential that we make confession of sin and praying for forgiveness a regular part of our daily life. So, what does the Bible teach us about praying for forgiveness?

I. Praying for salvation

Now there is praying for forgiveness as a believer, and there is praying for forgiveness as an unbeliever. Let’s talk about the unbeliever first. When we talk about praying for forgiveness as an unbeliever, we are talking about praying for salvation. We are talking about moving from unbelief to faith. This is the very first step in praying for forgiveness, because once again, until you’re saved, you can’t really pray for anything at all.

So how do you pray for salvation? This is important for those of you who don’t know Christ, but it is also important for those of us who do know Christ, because this is something we need to share with our family, friends and co-workers who don’t know Christ. We need to share with them how they can pray for salvation.

So, here are the ABC’s of praying for salvation: Admit you are a sinner in need of a Savior. Believe in Jesus as your Savior. Pray to God confessing your sin and Jesus as Lord. It’s so easy that even a child can do it, but so difficult that many adults never do it at all. Let’s look at each step in the process.

   A. Admit: Admit you are a sinner in need of a Savior
      – Proverbs 28:13; Romans 3:23

First of all, admit. Admit to God that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. This includes repentance or turning away from your sin. This is one of the parts that is so hard for us as adults. We don’t want to admit that we need a Savior. And we certainly don’t want to change. And yet this is an essential first step to praying for salvation.

When you think about it, it should be easy to admit that you’re a sinner, because it’s something we all share in common. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) If we’re all sinners in need of a Savior, if we’re all in the same boat, then why is it so hard for us to admit? It all comes down to pride, doesn’t it? We don’t want to admit that we need a Savior. And so, we get stuck on the very first step!

Proverbs 28:13 says: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) There it is again – confession and repentance, admitting your sin and renouncing your sin.

The word confession simply means to agree with God, to say the same thing God says about your sin. Well, what does God say about your sin?

God says your sin is a transgression of his holy law. It is an act of rebellion against your Creator. It is an affront to his holiness. God says your sin separates you from him, and that if you die in your sin, you will be separated from him for all of eternity. God says your sin is deserving of eternal punishment, and unless your sin is forgiven, you will suffer eternal punishment in hell when you die. God says you cannot fix this problem of sin on your own, and that’s why you need a Savior.

So, do you agree with God? Do you agree with what God says about your sin in his word? That’s the first step in praying for salvation. Admit to God that you are a sinner in need of a Savior, repenting and turning away from your sin.

   B. Believe: Believe in Jesus as your Savior
      – John 1:12, 3:16

The second step is to believe. Believe in Jesus as your Savior. You’ve just admitted to God that you need a Savior. Next, you believe that Jesus is that Savior who can save you from your sins. John 1:12 says: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Notice that you don’t need to do anything to be saved. You don’t need to go to church for some specified time or do some great act of sacrifice or do a certain amount of good works or religious deeds in order to be saved. You don’t even need to clean up your act first before coming to Jesus. You just need to believe.

Salvation is not something you earn by doing. It is something you receive by believing. The reason you don’t need to do anything to be saved is that you can’t do anything to be saved. You can’t do anything about your sin. That’s why you need a Savior, and that’s why you need to believe in Jesus.

There are two things in particular that you need to believe about Jesus. You need to believe who Jesus is, and what he did for you. So, who is Jesus? He is the Son of God who came to earth as a man to be your Savior. And what did Jesus do? He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead so that you could be forgiven.

Do you believe those two things about Jesus? Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth as a man? Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose again from the dead?

John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) That’s the second step to praying for salvation. Believe in Jesus as your Savior.

   C. Confess: Confess your sin and Jesus as Lord
      – Psalm 32:5; Romans 10:9

So, “A:” stands for admit; “B” stands for believe. And then “C” stands for confess. After admitting your sin and believing in Jesus, you now go to God in prayer confessing your sin and confessing Jesus as Lord.

Psalm 32:5 says: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5) Romans 10:9 says: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

When you come to Jesus for salvation, God forgives all your sins. He forgives all your sins in the past. He forgives all your sins in the present. He forgives all your sins in the future, the sins you haven’t even committed yet. Why wouldn’t you want to come to Jesus for salvation?

How do you pray for salvation? Admit that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. Believe in Jesus as your Savior. Confess your sin and Jesus as Lord.

II. Confessing sin

So, that’s praying for forgiveness as an unbeliever. What about believers and praying for forgiveness? For the unbeliever, praying for forgiveness is all about praying for salvation. For the believer, praying for forgiveness is all about confessing sin.

Now you might say, “Wait a minute. Didn’t I already do that when I prayed for salvation?” Yes, you did. “And you’re saying I need to keep confessing even after I’m saved?” Yes, you do. Confession of sin isn’t something you only do once. Just because you confessed sin when you got saved, doesn’t mean you don’t continue to confess sin after you’re saved. “Well, how often do I need to confess?” That depends. How often do you sin? Confessing sin is not just for unbelievers, but for believers, too.

Now, confessing sin is a little different for the believer than for the unbeliever. For the believer, confessing sin is not a matter of your salvation but rather your ongoing fellowship with God. Here’s what the Bible says. Unconfessed sin breaks your fellowship with God, while confessing sin restores your fellowship with God. Let’s take a look at each of these principles from God’s word.

   A. Unconfessed sin breaks your fellowship with God
      – Psalm 66:18; 1 John 1:6

First of all, unconfessed sin breaks your fellowship with God. 1 John 1:6 says: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” (1 John 1:6) In other words you cannot have fellowship with God while walking in darkness. If you want to have fellowship with God, you need to confess your sin and bring it out into the light. Unconfessed sin breaks your fellowship with God.

Psalm 66:18 says: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened to my prayer.” (Psalm 66:18) Now that verse applies to unbelievers, too. That’s why your very first prayer needs to be a prayer for salvation. But it also applies to believers. If you are cherishing sin in your heart, if you are refusing to confess sin as sin and turn away from the sin in your life, then as a believer that is going to affect your ongoing relationship with God.

And it will affect your prayer life, too. Psalm 66:18 says if you cherish sin in your heart, God won’t listen to your prayer. This is another reason why our prayers often go unanswered – because we have unconfessed sin in our lives that we are unwilling to bring into the light by confessing that sin to God.

   B. Confessing sin restores your fellowship with God
      – Psalm 19:12; 1 John 1:9

Unconfessed sin breaks your fellowship with God. But confessing sin restores your fellowship with God. 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Notice once again you don’t need to do anything to restore fellowship with God. Just as with your salvation, it’s not dependent on your works. You simply confess and believe. We all sin, so it’s not sin that is a block in your relationship with God. It is unconfessed sin that is a block in your relationship with God.

The question is often asked, “What if I forget to confess something? What do I do then?” We all sin a lot, and so it is likely that you will forget to confess a certain number of your sins to God. In that case you need to make a general confession of sin.

That’s why the psalmist prays in Psalm 19:12: “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” (Psalm 19:12) He’s saying, “My sin runs so deep, there are sins I’ve committed that I don’t even know I committed.” And so, he asks God to forgive his hidden faults as well.

We all have hidden faults – sins that we either forgot we committed or didn’t even realize we committed at the time. They may be hidden to us, and they may be hidden to others, but they are never hidden to God. That’s why specific confession of sin and general confession of sin are both important.

But whenever you can, specific confession is always better than general confession. It’s like in a marriage. When you’ve done something wrong, it’s not enough to tell your spouse, “Sorry I mess up a lot.” You need to apologize specifically for the specific thing you’ve done that was wrong.

Unconfessed sin breaks your fellowship with God. And so. it’s important to keep short accounts with God. As soon as you recognize that you have sinned, confess it to God right away. Don’t wait until later. Confessing sin restores your fellowship with God. Praying for forgiveness as a believer is all about confessing sin.

   C. Do I ask God for forgiveness or thank God for forgiveness?
      – Psalm 103:2-4; Matthew 6:9,12

Some people ask the question: “Do I ask God for forgiveness, or do I thank God for forgiveness?” The thought here is this. When you prayed to God for salvation, God already forgave your sins – past, present and future. And so, in a sense, you don’t really need to ask God for forgiveness. He’s already forgiven you. So why not simply thank God for forgiveness when you sin instead?

There’s a lot to be said for this approach. It is certainly good to thank God for forgiveness. And it is good to recognize that God has already forgiven your sins in Christ. So, which is it? Do I ask God for forgiveness or do I thank God for forgiveness?

Scripturally, the answer is both. We should both ask God for forgiveness and thank God for forgiveness.

We find an example of thanking God for forgiveness in Psalm 103 which says: “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.” (Psalm 103:2-4) We should thank God for all his good gifts to us. Forgiveness is one of those good gifts, and so, yes, we should thank God for his forgiveness.

But Jesus also taught us to ask for forgiveness. It’s right there in the Lord’s Prayer, God’s model prayer for every believer. Jesus says in Matthew 6: “This then is how you should pray…. ‘Forgive us.’” (Matthew 6:9,12) Remember, this is a prayer for believers, for those who call God Father through Jesus the Son.

I believe the reason Jesus tells us to ask for forgiveness is because forgiveness is more than just a transaction. It is part of a personal relationship. The transaction of forgiveness has already been taken care of. But God wants us to ask for and receive forgiveness on a personal level, too.

Think of a child coming to their parent and saying: “Hey Mom, hey Dad, I lied to you. Thank you for forgiving me!” Now the parent loves the child and has already forgiven the child no matter what they’ve done. So, in a sense the child is right in simply thanking them for their forgiveness.

But there’s still something missing, isn’t there? Because on a relational level it’s still important for the child to say: “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” In order to truly restore the relationship, the child still needs to ask for forgiveness, and the parent still needs to extend forgiveness. Then it is appropriate to thank the parent for their forgiveness.

So, do you ask God for forgiveness, or do you thank God for forgiveness? And the answer is, “Yes!” It’s not a case of either/or but both/and. Both are scriptural, and both are important.

III. Forgiving others

Finally, let’s talk about forgiving others. Because the Bible also teaches us that forgiving others is an essential part of praying for forgiveness.

   A. “Forgive us as we forgive others”
      – Matthew 6:12, 14-15

Going back to the Lord’s Prayer again, Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) Notice how Jesus instructs you to pray here: “Dear Lord, please forgive me in the exact same way that I forgive others.”

Of course, if you’re not very good at forgiving others when they sin against you, this is going to be a very difficult prayer for you to pray. You will be more likely to pray: “Dear Lord, please do not forgive me in the same way that I forgive others. Please forgive me in a different way than I forgive others. Please forgive me even when I don’t forgive others at all.”

Jesus says you can’t pray that way. That is not praying according to God’s will, and remember, last week we learned you need to pray according to God’s will. So, if you’re going to pray for forgiveness, you also need to forgive.

Jesus goes on to say: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Now this does not mean you will lose your salvation if you are struggling to forgive someone. Jesus is not talking about the transaction of forgiveness here. You were forgiven transactionally the day you put your faith in Christ.

No, he is talking about personal forgiveness, the removal of any blocks between you and God, the restoral of fellowship. When you refuse to forgive others, you are also breaking fellowship with God.

   B. Forgive others as Christ forgave you
      – Ephesians 4:32

So, that’s the first part of forgiving others. Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us as we forgive others.” Now, how are we supposed to forgive others? We are to forgive others as Christ forgave us.

Ephesians 4:32 says: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) And how did God in Christ forgive you? Fully, completely, lovingly, unconditionally.

Now you can see why you need to be saved before you can do any of this. Until you are saved, you will find it very difficult to forgive others at all. And until you are saved you will find it impossible to forgive others as Christ forgave you.

CONCLUSION: The Bible teaches us that both believers and unbelievers need to pray for forgiveness. Unbelievers need to pray for salvation so that their sins can be forgiven, and they can enter into a right relationship with God. Believers need to confess sin and ask for forgiveness in order to maintain fellowship with God.

Praying for forgiveness – it’s free for the asking, a free gift of God’s grace purchased for you by Christ at the cross. This is where it all begins. Because until you pray for forgiveness, you really can’t pray for anything at all.

© Ray Fowler

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