Do you ever fear your sins are not really forgiven? How can I know for sure that they will not be held against me? Over the holiday break my husband and I started watching “Lost” and I have watched a few of the characters attempt a confession to a priest. One character knew that his drug usage and promiscuity were sinful and he was truly seeking to make himself right in the eyes of God – at least to appease his guilt. Another character considered his actions justifiable because he had murdered a man to save his brother’s life and had done “only what he needed to do to survive” while in the captivity of an African drug lord. Both priests rightly represented the Catholic Church with the sentiment: Absolution is only possible if the penitent is truly contrite and if he is seeking to change.
Do you think when we get to judgment day that we will be able to stand before the throne and plead our case that we did the best with what God gave us? Do you think we can pass the blame to Him? Do you think that our prayers we prayed saying, “I’m sorry” will be enough to render us not-guilty?
This question is tricky, and it is one of the most, if not the most, important question you will ask in your lifetime.
Am I ready to stand before the eternal judge?
What is absolution? It is a term that we do not use every day, and it is mostly used in the Catholic and high church branches. Absolution is the forgiveness of guilt and removal of the eternal punishment (Hell) for a mortal sin. The Bible teaches us that Jesus offers us absolution (or forgiveness) by His work on the cross.
For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
– Heb 7.26-27
Before Jesus came to the Earth, the high priests had to make regular sacrifices for the sins of the people. The Israelites were continually coming to the temple, bringing animals and gifts to confess their sins and have them covered. But Jesus is the final and the perfect high priest and He made the perfect sacrifice that never has to be repeated. When He died on the cross, He died once and for all sins that would ever been forgiven. Two thousand years ago He covered all of my sins. He covered all the sins of all who would believe.
But how do we get into that “covered” category? The Bible unashamedly teaches,
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
“…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”
But we have all known people – and been them ourselves – who make the blanket statement: “I’m not perfect. I have sinned. Everyone has sinned.” But when you try to nail them down on something particular they either cannot come up with an example, or the example is a perfectly crafted story of woe in which they are the victim, their “sin” is justifiable and they are not really sorry for it. It’s the interview weakness question, where you dress up a strength to make it a weakness. You know what I am talking about. You have done it too.
So how do we know when we have been forgiven? The issue is repentance. By confessing Jesus as Lord, we give Him authority over our lives. We surrender our desires, wants, sins, everything and choose to obey Him. And we hate our sin because He hates it, because it dishonors Him, because it resulted in His death, and we stop doing it by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we meet Jesus and desire to be forgiven, but continue sinning anyway, the Bible says that we “crucify Him again”, we put Him back up on the cross when we sin, because we love our sin more than we love Him and we shame Him and abuse salvation (Heb 6.6). That person, Scripture says, is not forgiven.
Thus, the verbiage of the Catholic Church in the teaching of absolution is correct: we must be contrite, fully committed to leaving that sin behind and following Christ. However, it is not an ongoing issue in the sense that we must be regularly absolved. Jesus died once for all. He offers us forgiveness in the form of adoption as sons. Our sonship is not on the line if we fail and sin. Jesus said that there are some in this world who are His sheep, and His sheep hear His voice when He calls and they come to Him. Jesus died to cover the sins of His sheep, once for all, and we confess our sins to Him and He forgives us.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
– 1 John 1.9
We no longer need a mediator – a priest – we have direct access to God through Jesus:
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
– 1 Tim 2.5
And He welcomes us into His family when we repent.
So how do we know if we have repented? How do we know if we are forgiven? The traditional teaching of absolution involves penance. Penance is man’s efforts to pay off a debt of sin: pray so many times, do something good, outweigh the bad with good. But Scripture teaches there is nothing we can do to earn forgiveness and that Jesus paid the penalty in full. All we need to do is confess and repent. So check your heart today. How do you feel about your sin? Do you hate it? Does it make you sick because it has dishonored God? Or are you just fearful that it will land you in Hell? Are you relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome it? Or are you trying to do it on your own? Or do you continue freely in it, assuming that God will forgive you because you said you are sorry?
Let’s not play with sin. Let’s not take lightly the eternal punishment that sin is owed. Let’s not trivialize God’s glory. He will not be mocked (Gal 6.7). Hate your sin today, because it is that which alienates us from God. Hate your sin today because it is evil. Hate your sin today and ask God to give you the strength and ability to overcome it, to His glory and to your salvation.