The following question was posed to our friend, the Rev. Roger Wagner (pastor at Bayview OPC, Chula Vista, CA), on Facebook recently. His answer reminds us of many biblical truths.
Ever since I got saved, I have been told to pray for forgiveness for my sins. I am wondering why isn’t that adding to the finished work of Christ? Am I not forgiven through his blood if I don’t ask? Why not teach to thank God rather than ask for forgiveness?
Pastor Roger responded:
The “finished work of Christ” – his atonement and resurrection – (to which nothing can be added) – provides the basis for a comprehensive forgiveness that the Lord graciously applies to us as we seek it in repentance and faith. When we come to recognize and acknowledge our sin (e.g., Ps. 51), we turn from it and seek God’s forgiveness on the basis of what Christ has done for us. He forgives. It is also true that Jesus’ blood atones for all our sin – including sin that we do not explicitly recognize and seek forgiveness for. The basis (or ground) for both justification and sanctification is the finished work of Christ, but both are received by a repentant faith. As the Shorter Catechism says, we are moved to turn from our sin and seek the Father’s forgiveness by both a recognition of sin’s utter sinfulness, and by an apprehension of God’s mercy to us in Christ. Repentance and faith are no part of the ground of either justification or sanctification; both are the means by which we receive the saving benefits of Christ’s finished work, including forgiveness (cf. WSC Q.s 85-87). And, of course, we ought to be ever more thankful for the forgiving grace God extends every time we ask … and beyond.
The basis (ground) for the forgiveness of all our sins is always and only Christ’s work. His blood alone atones for all our sins – past, present and future. We cannot – and we do not – add to what he’s accomplished for us – past, present or future. Salvation is of the Lord from first to last.
As we continue to grow in the grace of God, we come to see the sin that yet remains in us and know that it is out of accord of our being made new in Christ. It (ought to) break our hearts that we so easily stray from loving God and our neighbors. So we flee again to our heavenly Father and confess our sin. As Pastor Roger stated above, we see the sinfulness of sin all the more. Our faith is “a repentant faith,” not only when we are first brought to life by the Spirit, but throughout our earthly sojourn. Just as we grow in faith, so, too, we grow in repenting of our sins. And so we are also growing in apprehending and laying hold of the complete sufficiency of God’s provision for our forgiveness through the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ, our Savior. There’s no room for us to boast, it’s all God’s grace at work in us (cf. Phil 2:12, 13).