Q&R with Brad – “Why pray for forgiveness if we’re already forgiven?”
The sin issue is cropping up again. I lose my temper. I get stressed out. I am short with my family… but I have gotten to the point where I feel as though Christ once and forever dealt with sin (alienation, darkness) at the Cross and my constantly asking Christ directly for forgiveness (again and again) for the same sins seems hopelessly pointless.
The reason why I regularly pray, “forgive us our trespasses,” is first of all, because Jesus taught us to do so. He quite literally says, “When you pray, pray this: Our Father,…” And while some folks dismiss this prayer as “pre-cross” and “old covenant” because Christ ultimately says, “It is finished,” the fact is that the Evangelists Matthew and Luke offer it to their faith communities at least a generation later for our use and formation as Christian disciples. The follow-up question is Why? Why pray for forgiveness when we’ve already been forgiven?
We know this: even as Jesus gave us this prayer, (1) he had already established God’s forgiveness as true, even before the Cross! And (2) his point is not to shower us with guilt, as did (and does) his religious opponents, then and now.
And it’s not even that Christless Christianity is the first or only venue for guilt trips. I see so many poor souls withering in guilt and shame who’ve never even darkened the door of a church, synagogue, mosque or temple. Before religion ever gets to us, our first accuser with guilt is actually our conscience.
Not that a guilty conscience is, in and of itself, the problem. One would hope that when we violate or harm or destroy another person, we would somehow recognize that we’ve done wrong and feel the sting of regret. That’s what the conscience is for… it is a judge that functions as a kind of God-given inner prophet, addressing the harms we cause so that we do not function as sociopaths.
But the conscience itself can also go rogue, serving itself rather than the Holy Spirit. The conscience can become self-righteous and downright abusive, piling on self-loathing as we embarrass it. Worst of all, it may cause us to hide from God in our shame. Speaking as a typical human, we do this all the time. Then what?
Jesus provides us with the Lord’s Prayer precisely so that when we ask, “Father, forgive me,” we will hear the Father say, again and again, “Remember the Cross. I already have. It is indeed finished!” I can then comprehend the freedom that is already mine but which my sins and my conscience forever second-guess.
So why this process? Christ prescribed this approach so that we can experience our forgiveness in real time and so our offended conscience hears God’s verdict, “Forgiven!”
Asking for forgiveness that is already secure is precisely how Christ lifts the burden of guilt, heals our shame and addresses our regret. But perhaps most importantly, this is how Christ reconciles us with our stricken and estranged conscience. We’ve already been reconciled to God at the Cross, but when we confess our shortcomings and discover grace has us covered, we make peace with our conscience, also referred to as “forgiving ourselves.”
But it’s more than that. As we bring our shortcomings into the light of God’s grace, we begin to experience empowering grace that transforms us and helps us yield to Christ-in-us, who overcomes the ugliness we could never manage through self-will or willpower. By bringing whatever our conscience accuses us of into Christ’s loving gaze, we cease wallowing in defeat and or coping through denial while the sense of guilt festers. Rather, we actually see real progress in the Jesus Way of love.
To me, there’s nothing pointless about actively receiving God’s grace through our real-life stumbles. Even when our growing freedom is incremental, it signals the unfurling power of the finished work in unfinished people.