Praying for Forgiveness

In the title song of Toby Keith‘s  movie and soundtrack, Broken Bridges, the first line of the chorus is:

Here I am, prayin’ for forgiveness… 

If you’ve seen the movie on CMT it makes sense. It is a story of a guy facing up to his past mistakes and the people he has hurt.  It is a process of reconciling broken relationships.

But this line also begs a question: Why “pray” for forgiveness?

Puritan Pastor Richard Sibbes considered this issue. Sibbes posed the question, then proposed a profound and practical response:

Q. Why do we pray for forgiveness?

A. We pray for clear evidence of what we have.

I don’t know if you have ever wondered about this, but Sibbes’ question is a good one.  If, as we profess, Jesus’ death and resurrection secured forgiveness of sin past, present, and future for all who Believe, then what is the point in asking for it if forgiveness is already granted.  Is this merely a politeness – somewhat like saying “Excuse me” after a burp?

What Sibbes answers makes great sense. The issue is not what we do or do not have. The issue is what we experience.  We do not need to pray to get forgiveness.  Those who are trusting Christ already have it.  What we need is the renewed experience, the realization, of that forgiveness already granted.

Our perspective is limited. Our feeling of assurance is often fleeting.  Like a child momentarily separated from his parents may feel lost, abandoned, and even alienated, the Christian may experience a twinge of anxiety when we realize all over again that, though we have been justified, we are still sinners.  (To not have this “uh-oh” feeling would make me wonder if someone has a conscience.)  

We know the child is not abandoned just because the parents are out of his/her line of sight. And the believer should know that God is faithful to his promise without condition. As   we are told in 2 Timothy:

[Even] if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

What is in view inthis verse is not the person who is not a Believer, but the Christian who is not appropriating faith at a particular moment. In such moments we are functionally like the child who fears the parents are “lost” or gone.  And unless we seriously deceive ourselves, we must admit that we all have these moments – many of them. This is especially true at moments when we are aware of and grieved by our sin and disobedience.

What Sibbes points out at those moments – moments when we reflexively cry out for forgiveness – what we are really asking for is not so much for forgiveness, but a new dose of evidence of our forgiveness that we cling to for comfort and to dry our tears. 

Let me finish with this: All the evidence we need is found at the Cross.  The evidence is the same today as it was yesterday; and it will be the same tomorrow as it is today.

Romans 5.8 reminds us:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And John practically applies this to us in 1 John 1:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

2 thoughts on “Praying for Forgiveness

  1. Reminds me of a Tozer quote, “It is for increasing degrees of awareness that we pray.” For eyes to see and ears to hear. Like Elisha’s prayer for his servant, “Lord, open his eyes that he may see” that which was really there already.

  2. Good stuff here and I think something we all need. Like the assurance aspects of confessing our sin and asking forgivness. I would also say repentance has a part in this as well.

    I think we miss somthing however….When James tells us to confess our faults to one another ! I’ve often thought what does that really mean ? I know that the Bible tells us no temptation has take us but that is common to man…So to me that tells me we are all subject to the same issues, pride, lusts of the flesh and eyes, lies we all deal with the same issues but not the same circumstances. So I wonder if the modern Christians (or for that matter the early Church) missed something in regard to being open with each other and praying for each other regarding sin that seems so easily to grab us. Anyway something I’ve thought of from time to time.

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