being · faith · forgiveness

A Question of Forgiveness

The subject of forgiveness and grace has been bouncing around this week at CC.

As far as I know, this is not for any reason – but just a train of thought that has been in discussion.

Last week we hosted a Freedom in Christ leaders day. At this event, the phrase arose – “We are not sinners who are saved but saints who sometimes sin” Now perhaps, for you, the distinction is a mute point. But to me, through the discussions we have been having this week, it is becoming a fundamental question.

To what extent do we as Christians understand the forgiveness bought by Christ for us?

Are we, as the Book of Common Prayer would have it, sinful beings, who constantly fail to live up to God’s ideal? Or are we Saints of God, bought by his blood, who occasionally muck things up and get things wrong?

Over history the Church, and in particular the CofE has followed the line of mankind, created perfect but sadly fallen, as being a basically sinful being – that can only find forgiveness through the miraculous grace of God. And certainly that is a truth.

The question is whether, considering the once-for-all nature of Jesus’ atonement for my sin, a more correct view would be that I am a beloved son who saddens the father when he sins, but who can be assured of a grace filled response when I acknowledge my transgressions.

It is more than a purely semantic argument.

I think that our attitude to our sin and the nature of our being as a people of God potentially effects the way we behave.

For example. If I have the mindset of the BCP – A persistent sinner, who can only be saved by the magic of God’s grace – then it is possible that my view actually perpetuates my sin. If I consider myself a sinner, surely I lower my personal goal posts, and I am more likely to sin. After all what’s the point in trying to achieve something that is unattainable?

However if I have the mindset of a saint, who gets things wrong – I have no excuse for my sin. I am a saint, bought by the blood of Christ. He makes me new. When I sin, I cause a dent in that precious gift of grace. I know that I am wholly and unconditionally forgiven therefore when I doo get things wrong, the desire to achieve restoration of Jesus is stronger.

The main difference the working out of these mindsets has is in our response to our sin.

Is forgiveness received through the more traditional attitude of – “I have sinned, forgive me” or should our response actually be “Yes God, it was me that did that – please forgive me”.

I am reminded of the parable of the prodigal son.

In that parable, the Father already knew what his son had done – he knew the sin. Yet he interrupts the son’s prepared forgiveness speech in order to welcome him back in to the family.
Yes, the son gets as far as asking for his forgiveness – and I think that is important – but to what extent is this as much to do with the fact that the son is acknowledging what he did as being wrong – is the son’s response, in returning home, in preparing that speech just about him saying ‘forgive me’ or is there also an element of ‘yes – I admit it, it was me’.

I wonder if when we come before God our attitude should be one of admitting our errors in penitence, rather than just asking for forgiveness for things that we know are wrong.

If I consider myself a Saint of God, who sometimes get stuff wrong, then I am denying Satan an foothold in my life. If I have the attitude of a miserable sinner, who rarely does right, then I give Satan the opportunity to accuse me, and highlight my very real failings. I give him the permission to accuse me, and to remind me of all the previous times I have fouled up.

As Saint, I know that those things have been wiped from the slate. As a sinner they, surely remain real in my life – even after God has forgiven them.

Now, before you accuse me of heresy, let me say, I am just exploring this myself and I’d be fascinated to hear what your reactions is. I also need to say that these are my musings on discussions I have had with others this week. The views I am exploring are mine, but they have evolved from the contributions of others as we have discussed this.


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