Forgiveness. That’s a blessed word—one that I am still grasping to conceive in fullness. Growing up, I was exposed to the gospel as early as I can remember. At the tender age of four, I prayed for forgiveness from all the bad things I had done. However, due to coming to faith early in life, my concepts of grace and forgiveness were not mature nor complete. For many, many years I struggled against the misconception that my sins committed after I believed were worse than those I committed prior. As Christians, we are called to be perfect as God is perfect. So before being a Christian and “knowing better”, I reasoned it was okay that I sinned and could accept forgiveness. However, once I “knew better” and was forgiven once for all, any further sins were greater grievances. I was supposed to be perfect now. I felt guilt and did not really believe I could be forgiven. I figured my slate couldn’t be wiped clean again and again—only the first time did that work. Thus, there were times when I wished I wasn’t saved so that I could be saved and clean once more. To anyone reading this, I am sure this sounds absurd (at least I hope so), and it is certainly not correct theology. For so long, I missed out on the greatness of God’s grace, but thankfully, I had wise people in my life who imparted to me a greater understanding of the magnitude of God’s forgiveness—a forgiveness covering all past, present, and future sins.
In college studying the “already/not yet” of God’s kingdom and the nuances of sanctification and justification gave me a framework to better process my own Christian life. Though there is a distinct time in which I was saved, there is simultaneously a continuing process of being saved—an already/not yet. I was saved from my sins before while also I am being saved today from today’s sins. This may seem paradoxical, much like how Christ has established his kingdom on earth already while at the same time it is not yet established in the fullness that it will be when he returns. There is no point in the Christian life when I can say, “Okay, I am good enough now.” No, the Christian walk is a continual, humble acceptance that I am not self-sufficient nor self-perfected. It’s a continual confessional to God. This keeps me in the right place before God and keeps God in the right place in my life.
I think perhaps a contributing factor to my misconception of grace and forgiveness in the Christian’s life resulted from the strong focus many churches take on sin, confession, and repentance—so much focus on what we do. Not saying the church shouldn’t focus on this, but there is need to go further. The second part of forgiveness is the reconciliation to God and the restoration to the body of the Christ—the church. This part—the unity, the wholeness—needs to be preached just as much.
A couple years ago, I read George MacDonald’s The Minister’s Restoration. Although written to the church of the nineteenth century, it opened my eyes to the need for restoration in the church even today. MacDonald was concerned at the stigma related to certain sins and lack of full restoration to equal status in the church. The full circle of forgiveness comes to completion in restoration. Restoration says that if you confess and repent, you are forgiven and in right standing. You are no second class citizen, no scarlet letter. You are not forever marked as unequal with other believers. No, you are instead one of the body, one of the many who are forgiven fully from all the sins each of us commit. Jesus did not come to only save us from some sins but all sins. He didn’t come only to partially unite the church but to wholly unite it in him. Our perfection is only his perfection. None of us can shame another for we are all equally unholy in ourselves and equally holy in him. We are free only because he is perfect and works out our perfection and salvation in us. It is now a process, but one that will be complete. How glorious a day that will be when all of our being will be perfectly restored to rightness with God—and all to the Glory of God!
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV)