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Must We First Forgive to Be Forgiven?

Peter Ditzel

Picture of lighthouse on cliff overlaid with the Scripture, For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don't forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
We commonly see pictures with Bible verses like this one posted on social media as a form of encouragement. But is it really encouraging to be told that God won’t forgive us unless we first do a work? Jesus did say these words, but did He intend them for believers?

As part of what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, and in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Again, in Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus taught, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” These passages have caused theologians some consternation. They seem to pin our receiving God’s forgiveness upon a human work—the work of our first forgiving others. Will God not forgive us unless we forgive others first?

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Q. Must we regularly confess our sins to receive God’s forgiveness?

A. Many, perhaps most, preachers teach that when a Christian sins, he or she must confess that sin to receive God’s forgiveness. They base this primarily on 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But if it is true that we must always confess a sin for God to forgive us, it would seem to contradict the fact that God has already completely forgiven believers because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. What, then, did John mean when he wrote 1 John 1:9?

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Q. Must we regularly confess our sins to receive God’s forgiveness?

A. Many, perhaps most, preachers teach that when a Christian sins, he or she must confess that sin to receive God’s forgiveness. They base this primarily on 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But if it is true that we must always confess a sin for God to forgive us, it would seem to contradict the fact that God has already completely forgiven believers because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. What, then, did John mean when he wrote 1 John 1:9?

Read more… →