A gracEmail reader in Texas inquires, “Are we required to ask God for forgiveness? Does he wait to forgive our sin until we ask?”
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The gospel tells us that God forgave us in Christ long before we were even born, much less before we repented and asked his forgiveness (Eph. 4:32; Col. 1:19-22). That was based on God’s own eternal purpose and grace, grounded in his own divine character, not on anything we did or anything he foresaw in us (2 Tim. 1:9). However, we cannot enjoy God’s forgiveness by experience until we feel a need for it and accept it by trusting God’s promise (Acts 26:18; 1 Thess. 1:3-6). The only people who cannot enjoy God’s forgiveness are those who either refuse to acknowledge that they need it or who refuse to trust that God has given it.
It is certainly appropriate for us to pray for God’s forgiveness on a regular basis. David exemplifies the heart of faith in his great plea for divine forgiveness found in Psalm 51. Jesus teaches his followers to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses” (Matt. 6:12). The Apostle John assures us that “if we confess our sins,” God is “faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9).
We do not beg God’s forgiveness in order to change God’s mind toward us, for he has already shown himself a forgiving God in Jesus Christ. We are the ones who need this prayer — to remind ourselves of our own sinfulness, shortcomings and dependence on God, and to assure ourselves of God’s everlasting disposition to forgive the humble in heart (Psalm 103:8-13).