There are those who believe that forgiveness has already been given to everyone and people must accept forgiveness for it to actually mean anything. There are still others who believe that forgiveness is offered to all and it’ no acceptance is even required for it to have meaning and something much deeper; what we pursue with our lives, the trajectory of our whole lives, gives us real salvation. There are others that believe that something has to happen before we’re actually forgiven; a confession, repentance, etc. What is mysteriously true to me is that the Bible seems to uphold both concepts.
In some places in scripture there seems to be no prerequisite on our behalf for forgiveness.
“LORD, you have poured out amazing blessings on your land! You have restored the fortunes of Israel. You have forgiven the guilt of your people— yes, you have covered all their sins.” _Palm 85.1&2
This is a glimpse into the Hebrew concept of Salvation. This was their cry, for their “sins” to be covered. Is this not what we believe the cross has done? Didn’t “He purchase our freedom through the blood of His Son, and our sins are forgiven” (Ephesians 1.7)? The Bible does emphasize that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9.22) and that is why Jesus shed His blood. So since Jesus already did that aren’t we all already forgiven regardless of weather or not we realize it or ask for it? Why would God hold back His forgiveness for any reason? Why would we have to ask for it?
There are other places in Scripture that at least imply some action on our part, either belief, or repentance. Jesus quotes Isaiah saying “They see what I do, but they don’t perceive its meaning. They hear my words, but they don’t understand. So they will not turn from their sins and be forgiven.” Here it seems that you have to “turn from your sins” (repent). Now of course, He could just be saying we need to turn to the reality that we already are forgiven (that might be a stretch) But what about this verse:
“I am warning you! If another believer sins, rebuke him; then if he repents, forgive him. 4Even if he wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, forgive him.” Notice that it says “if he repents.” Again, repentance is involved but this time it implies that if the sinner doesn’t repent he’s not to be forgiven. But it doesn’t give us the scenario for when someone doesn’t repent.
So, it seems that you must repent in order to be forgiven. You’ve got to turn from your sins or else God, in His justice, cannot forgive you.
One of the most interesting places for forgiveness to show up is on the cross. And this is where it all gets messed up for me. Jesus cries out “Father, forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 32.34). Here is Jesus, asking God to forgive people who obviously have not repented and they don’t even know what they’re doing. Apparently you can be totally oblivious and still be forgiven. But what about all those verses we just discussed? Don’t you have to repent to be forgiven? Jesus is breaking all His own rules. Paradox?
Maybe one reason it makes no sense to us is because we’ve misunderstood repentance. The New Living Translation translates this word as a “turn from sin.” But the word actually emphasizes what we’re turning toward than what we’re turning from. The Hebrew word for repent is t’shuva which actually means something closer to “return.” So what are we returning to when we turn from sin? Yes, we are returning to God but particularly we’re returning to Eden, the only place in history where “it was very good” without any curse of sin (Genesis 1.31). But if you remember John chapter 20’s reference to the garden (CLICK HERE for clarification) Eden has already been established, we are living in the new creation with the Holy Spirit as our new “breath of life” (Genesis 2.7) in the new creation. This is another great paradox of our faith; we are in new creation yet we are still striving for it.
So, if we’re in the new creation and repentance is a return to creation then maybe repentance is more like an awakening. Maybe repentance is realizing the already present reality of our forgiveness. Maybe repentance is coming awake to the real reality that is already present; The Kingdom of God.
The curse was ended and our sins were forgiven on a cross and ultimately in a garden where Jesus was mistaken as the gardener. The curse came into the world in a garden (Genesis 3) and it was defeated in a garden (John 20). Man fell and was lifted up in a garden. It is to this garden we must return and see that forgiveness is found right where we fell.