Q & A – Forgiveness

The following question I received on one of my other blog sites. I thought it was worth posting here. Perhaps someone reading this will find it useful. Thoughtful comments are appreciated…

I would rather my email or name not be posted if you decide to put this. I have a question about what the bible has to say about folks who have been baptized, have felt the Holy Spirit and then have fallen into sin.  I am confuse by the OH SO MANY churches that say just pray to God to forgive and you are forgiven, or some churches that make one feel compelled to come to an altar and kneel to pray for forgiveness.  Is that enough to wipe ones sinful soul clean?  Where in the bible does it clearly tell us that we are totally forgiven for our sins?  Why is it that some churches and preachers say  when we sit in the seat of judgment our sins will be revealed… are those the ones that we haven’t said our prayers of forgiveness for?  And if we have sins revealed, how could we possible be candidates for heaven? Hope I make sense.. I am just very confused about forgiveness and how one can feel secure that we have a chance for heaven!

And now I’ll try to do it justice…

You start by asking about people who are baptized, have felt the Holy Spirit, then fall into sin. Okay, that’s a mouthful right there. Let’s talk about baptism. First, there are two kinds of baptism. There’s water baptism and there’s baptism in the Spirit. Mt 3:11 in particular says I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John explains his baptism is by water for repentance. John’s baptism doesn’t provide forgiveness or purify the soul, rather it is an outward symbol to demonstrate the person’s desire to change their heart for God. Repentance is a change of heart and mind. John then speaks of the other kind of baptism, the one Jesus would offer, the baptism of “Holy Spirit and fire.” Water purifies the body, but the Holy Spirit purifies the soul. (Mt 3 explains John the Baptist pretty well and gives the account of Jesus’ baptism.)

In the second part of your first question you qualify these baptized people as having felt the Holy Spirit. If I understand your question correctly, you’re really asking about people who have experienced the spiritual baptism. I hope you understand that because they are two different things, they need not happen at the same time. In fact, although water baptism is a commanded ceremony, I don’t believe failure to be water baptized will keep you out of heaven. And while John baptized by emersion, as did the apostles after Pentecost, I don’t think sprinkling or some other ceremonial method will keep you from heaven either. Water baptism (since Pentecost) has always been an outward symbol to confess before the world your allegiance to Jesus. Spirit baptism happens when you truly believe, confessing Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior, and placing yourself willfully in submission to his Lordship. I don’t believe in formulas like the “sinner’s prayer” as a specific or only means to this. The woman at the well (Jn 4) didn’t comprehend the theological details, but she did understand she was sinful and she was to change her ways and trust in Jesus as her messiah. The Holy Spirit is the source of such knowledge (Jn 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.) I believe that while the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet come in the full power and glory (fire ref Mt 3:11) demonstrated at Pentecost, it was very much present before and during Jesus bodily life. Jesus is God (Jn 1:1). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God (Jn 14:20, read in context the passage Jn 14:15-26). But I degress…

The next part of your question is about such a person who then falls into sin. Okay. Is anyone truly sinless? Ro 3:23 says for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

2 Samuel 12 is the story of judgment on David for having Bathsheba’s husband sent to battle to be killed and fooling around with her. The key verse I want to call your attention to is v13: David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. David was already in good with the Lord. David still sinned. But, David acknowledged his sin and he was forgiven. Nathan (the prophet here) told him his sin was put away and he shall not die. Here’s where a lot of people get this all messed up. There was consequence for the sin. The child of this romance was to die. Ouch – harsh. Some people forget about this and think God plays favorites or that David “got away with it” or whatever. He didn’t get away with it. Other people will look at this and think its all nonsense since we know David did eventually die, just like every other human died. Ah, but that’s natural death those people think of. David held fast to the assurance of eternal life through his salvation. He understood salvation as well as anyone could have prior to Jesus’ physical life. David was afraid he’d lost his eternal salvation through his sin, but he had not – this was the assurance Nathan provided. Of what value would David have been after that had he lost his salvation and known there was no hope? No, God had a great deal of mercy to overlook his lust. There was consequence in the natural world for the sin in the natural world, but his soul was spared by grace.

Then you seem to be telling me you’re confused by the different preaching of different churches. That’s completely understandable. I attribute that to a few different things. For one, there are many false prophets (2 Peter 2 talks about this at length, but for brevity here’s one verse – 2 Pe 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.). For another, those in the body are all different, unique, and special. Not everyone will use the same words to express the same truth. There are 66 canonized books compiled into what we call our Bible, some seemingly contradictory, but in truth are only complimentary. The bible is very confusing to the unbeliever and even scholars who study it their lives are constantly searching out its mysteries. And finally, look inside and see if you were listening to the Lord for an answer or seeking an answer from a man behind a pulpit (or a blog). The most repeated phrase in Revelations is: To him who has an ear, let him hear. For most of my life I searched for truth in the words of men. Its only been in the last few years that I’ve come to fully realize the error of my ways about this. But, once again I digress.

What about forgiveness? Is that really all that is needed and how is it obtained? Ah, this is the crux of the good news itself, and the reason I said your question was one of the “great ones.” I want to assure you, your concern is well founded about this doctrine of “just pray for forgiveness” or “just come to the altar and pray” or things like that. Jesus NEVER said “pray for forgiveness and you will be forgiven.” Here are some examples of what he did say:

Mk 2:5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Read the verse in context and you’ll see the man sought out Jesus, but didn’t ask for forgiveness, yet the faith he and his friends had in the authority of Jesus as the Christ was sufficient to receive far greater than physical healing.

Lk 7:44-50 I won’t copy the whole thing, but in v50 Jesus says to the woman that by her faith her sins are forgiven.

Jn 3:16 You probably know this verse by heart, but the key words are “whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” It is about belief.

Mt 17:20 is the famous verse about having the faith of a mustard seed to move a mountain. It isn’t the prayer, though prayer is important, but the faith which has the power.

Romans 4 goes on at length about being justified by faith. It does NOT say you are justified by prayer alone.

So what about prayer? After all, the bible does talk a lot about prayer. Well, prayer is important and it is part of the larger picture. Prayer can accomplish a great deal. But first there’s the matter of what prayer is, or more specifically the kind of prayer heard by God. Let’s look at James 5:13-20. I encourage you to read the whole passage so you get the context. This passage talks about faith, prayer, healing and forgiveness of sin. It says the prayer of a righteous man will accomplish much. It says to confess our sins to each other so we can be healed. It calls on the elders to pray over the sick and in addition to physical healing, sins are forgiven. This part is interesting because it connects prayer to forgiveness, but some are quick to say from this that you can pray for forgiveness and get it. It DOES NOT say that. It says that righteous are doing the praying, not the one who is sick with sin and/or physical ailment. Go on down to v19-20 and it talks about what a great thing it is when someone “brings back” one who “wanders from the truth” and how that person will be credited for saving the wanderer from losing their soul. To me, this says if you are loved enough by a believer, that believer can pray for you and heal the wanderer’s heart, helping them find their way back. Healing of the heart is infinitely more important than healing of the body. Jesus healed both the body and the heart, but seldom if ever will you find a case where he healed someone who didn’t believe, at least a little.

Lk 11:4 is one specific example where I Jesus does tell us to pray for forgiveness. However, there is a condition. He says we should pray to be forgiven AS WE FORGIVE OTHERS. We can hope for forgiveness when we forgive others. By faith we take his word that forgiving others is his will, and in so doing we have hope for our own forgiveness. Again, the whole thing depends on our own faith first.

Ps 130, esp v3 & 4 speak of forgiveness. Why does God forgive? He does so for his own sake. We cannot possibly deserve it, but only by his will. It says he forgives so that “his name will be feared.” In OT language, it essentially means so we will respect him, like a stern but fair and loving father.

I want to remind you of something I said earlier – forgiveness of sin does not automatically mean natural consequences are put aside in this world for our sin. If you get drunk and hit someone in a car, you may be on your knees in abject humility before God when you sober up, and he will forgive if your faith and repentance of heart is genuine, but that doesn’t restore the victim’s life nor does it keep you from going to court and doing your time for the crime. Justice will be served in this life even if your soul is spared from the second death of Rev 20.

What about your question of wiping one’s sinful soul clean? David sang a song recorded in Ps 51. It speaks of being washed clean, entirely clean, of all the wretchedness David realized he was born into and lived with. He asked not just for forgiveness, but he expressed his hope solely in God to accomplish this (total submission) and expressed total faith that the Lord would do this. He pledges himself to do God’s will, specifically to bring sinners to God (much like James 5:19-20). He did not merely pray for forgiveness, but sacrificed his SELF to God. Certainly God will cleanse us entirely, else how could we come into his presence in the New Jerusalem?

You asked about completely clean? In addition to this, let’s look at Jn 13 where Jesus washes Peter’s feet. The key verses are Jn 13:8-10. Here Jesus says he must wash us. Peter at first objects, but when he realizes he has to be washed or else, he asked to be washed completely, not understanding Jesus wasn’t talking about water on the body. Jesus then tells him if his body is clean he doesn’t need washed all over, just his feet, because he is otherwise completely clean. What this means is, even after we are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, we still live in the world, we are still flesh, and we still will make mistakes and sin now and then. We need to come to him and clean off the dirty parts, but even in those times we aren’t seen as filthy. Like David’s sin, there was a consequence, but it didn’t result in eternal death.

The last part of your question kind of runs together in my mind, but the gist seems to be the matter of when we stand at judgment day and how that all goes down. Wow. I told you your question was one of the great ones. Now do you see why? Without getting too deep and quoting a lot more scripture, let me just say that I see Judgment Day as a method to complete a plan. Faith is the assurance of hope and the substance of hope for our salvation. Judgment is merely the mechanism to execute salvation, making the fruit of God’s plan fully ripen. If there is a fear of the Lord to be had, it should be the fear of the second death promised to those who do not have their names listed in the lamb’s book of life (Rev 20). I believe faith is the ink and the actions we carry out in the course of our faith are what makes the pen stroke across the page with our name. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17), just as works without faith is dead (Eph 2:8-9). Finally, Hebrews 11 is a running list of examples of faith being reckoned as righteousness, specifically the kind that yields salvation. In every case, faith was demonstrated, not just words spoken in prayer or shouted from a hill top. If you’d like me to go into more about judgment I will, but I think this is plenty for now.

I bet you’re tired of reading and you might not have liked all my answers. I pray earnestly that you will read this, looking up the references I’ve offered for yourself. Please pray and seek that the Lord will reveal His Truth to you in these matters, as they are central to matter of salvation, and key to the good news we are commanded to share with others.

May you be richly blessed this and every day and always seek Him first.

Your brother in Christ,




About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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One Response to Q & A – Forgiveness

  1. Jerry Hill says:

    Good News well answered!

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