But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
People were designed to live in harmony with God and each other. Unfortunately, sin destroys these relationships. Sin separates us from God and each other. Sin tears our world apart. It corrupts everything—from our relationships to the very nature of the world around us. The glorious Good News of Jesus Christ is that the blood He shed on the cross atones for our sin. We can be forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus. As 1 John 1:9 says, if we confess our sins to Jesus, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.
I've been asking people to submit questions about Christianity. A couple questions came in about forgiveness. And I want to address those today.
First Question: If you are asking for forgiveness, can you only go to God or do you need to go to the other person and say out loud what your sin is?
This is a great question. We know from Scripture that God is merciful and quick to forgive. Jesus’ death on the cross assures our forgiveness by God. But what about people? Will they forgive us too? Should we seek to be forgiven by the people we offend? Many might like to avoid seeking forgiveness from people as that could be very awkward and painful. Can't we just ask God to forgive us and be done with it?
Let me start this answer with a parable. Suppose you are backing out of the driveway from your friend’s house and you accidentally run over his mailbox. You didn’t mean to. It was an accident. But still, your friend’s mailbox is ruined and it was your fault. What should you do? Should you:
a. Feel guilty and beat yourself up about it for the rest of your life.b. Ask God to forgive you and then forget about it. (If your friend ever asks you about it, just say, “Oh yeah, I ran over your mailbox. But it’s OK because I asked God to forgive me and He did.”)
c. Make a donation to to your church for the amount it would have cost to fix your friend’s mailbox.
d. Apologize to your friend and pay to have a new mailbox put in.
I know. This is a very simple situation and issues about forgiveness and relationships are often far more complex. I could write a whole series about issues related to confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation (and maybe I will one day).
Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God."
Jesus taught it’s very important to be reconciled with the people we’ve wronged. Jesus also said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (The Golden Rule, Matthew 7:12). If someone had sinned against you the way you sinned against this other person, what would you want them to do to you? Would you want them to come confess their sin and seek your forgiveness and make it right? If so, then that’s a strong indication you should also go to the person against whom you’ve sinned and confess your sin and ask forgiveness and seek to make it right.
Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God and love our neighbor. If asking forgiveness will help the person you wronged, then you should go to them and confess and seek forgiveness and try to make it right. However, you should only do this after much prayer and reflection; perhaps you should speak with a wise counselor or pastor first. Ask God whether this is really going to help the other person. Remember, this is about doing the right thing or the other person. It’s not about assuaging your own guilt or winning some reward for yourself. It’s about helping the other person and making it right. And sometimes, going to ask forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged will do the more harm than good. If this is the case, you should not go to the person for forgiveness. If asking forgiveness would bring more harm than good, it may be better to pray for them and hope they forgive you in their own time because it might make them less unhappy, not because it does anything to help you.
As for how all this affects your relationship with God, God has already forgiven you through Jesus Christ. God still loves you even if you are unable to be forgiven by those you’ve wronged in this life. However, don’t let God’s forgiveness and grace be an excuse to selfishly avoid doing the right thing for the people you’ve wronged in this life when it’s in your power to do better.
God’s Question for You – Is there anyone to whom you need to apologize? Is there anything you can do to make right a wrong you’ve done?
Next Question: We get forgiveness when we ask for it. Will our sins be hashed out again when we get to heaven? Is there an actual judgment day?
Another great question. The Bible teaches that one day everyone will have to make an account for the way they’ve lived in this life. Everyone—Christians and non-Christians—will face this judgment. Let me share what Scripture teaches.
Revelation 20:12 gives a vision of the final judgment before God. It says, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” And verse 13 says, “And all were judged according to their deeds.” And verse 15 says, “And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
You want to make sure your name is in the Book of Life. How do you make sure your name is in the Book of Life? This is part the glorious Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus death on the cross opens a way for us to be forgiven of all our sins and have our name recorded in the Book of Life. For everyone who surrenders to God, repents of their sin, and follows Jesus Christ as Lord shall be saved. Their names are recorded in the Book of Life. And at the final judgment, when God judges the living and the dead, He will find all your sins have been washed away. Your sins will be no more because Jesus Christ already paid the price for all your sins. You will be washed and clean and spotless before the Lord.
Now, that doesn't mean you should live however you want in this life and sin as much as you like because you know all your sins will be forgiven in the end. No! That is not the way people who follow Jesus as Lord ought to live (or want to live)! We should follow the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us more and more into His likeness, so we treat people the way Jesus treats people, so that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our mid, and all our strength, and love our neighbor as our self.
Furthermore, I want to tell you, Christians will face a kind of judgment too. In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, the Apostle Paul explained how Christians will be judged in the final days. You can think of this judgment for Christians as a performance review at work. We will be evaluated for the work we've done for God’s Kingdom in this life. This will help determine how we will be rewarded in eternity. The work we've done in this life will be presented to God. Any work that was frivolous and useless will be burned up like straw or wood in a fire. Those deeds that were pure and worthwhile (whether in whole or in part) will pass through the fire like gold, silver, and precious stones. The impurities will be removed and the good of all our deeds will be refined like gold in a furnace.
Scripture names some of the rewards that await people who serve the Lord faithfully in this life:
- The Soul Winners crown for leading people to Jesus.
- The Victors Crown for those who persevere and refuse to give up during persecution.
- The Crown of Glory for those who pastor well Christ's "flock".
- The Crown of Life for martyrs who were killed for their faith.
- The Crown of Righteousness for looking with anticipation for the Second Coming.
And so, Scripture teaches that everyone will be judged on the Last Day. Those who rejected Christ will go to eternal punishment. Those who followed Christ as Lord will enters into eternal life with Jesus where their will be no more suffering or pain or sorrow or death. And Christians will be rewarded for every faithful deed.
God’s questions for you – Is your name written in the Book of Life? (In other words: Have you surrendered to God, repented of your sins, and chosen to follow Jesus as your Lord?) How will the things you do in this life be judged by the Lord on at the Last Judgment? Will they be found useless like hay burned up in a fire? Or will He find gold and silver because you were faithful in this life and worked hard to show the love of Christ to everyone around you and you lead people to Jesus?