I remember a time many years ago where, as a new Christian, I would commit a sin and then I would lose it. That is, after I did something which troubled my soul and in which caused the inner parts of me to hurt with shame and regret, I would lie on my bed, close my eyes, and beg God to forgive me. That was my mantra. “God I’m so sorry, please forgive me. Forgive me. Forgive me. Wash away my sins and please forgive me.” It offered a sort of relief, whereby before I asked God to forgive me I would feel horrible. After I said those words I felt forgiven- as if in that moment they lifted off of me and they were separated as far as the East is from the West. The penance was in the asking and receiving. Forgiveness was actively happening to me every time I asked for it, and there was no shortage of asking.
Nowadays though, that does not happen. I never ask God to forgive me. I am still grieved by the things I do and my conscience still pricks me. The Holy Ghost still convicts me and brings about that visceral prompting which makes me turn to Christ for comfort and solace. But not for forgiveness.
Because I have already been forgiven, and asking God to forgive me over and over again is a theological trainwreck. When Jesus died on the cross in that great exchange, he took my sins and I took on his righteousness. Through repentance and faith all my sins, past present and future, were never again to be held against the me. I don’t believe that the death of Christ on a cross “potentially” took away my sins, or made it possible for them to be taken away, but that they were actually taken away. In that moment I was forgiven of everything I had done and will do in this lifetime. Every wicked thought and evil deed was no more. Its all done, buried in the blood.
If that is the case, then why would I cry and plead for God to do something that he has already done? As a believer, when I ask God to forgive me, he won’t do it then and there. It’s empty words because it’s already been done. That great act has been finished, and there’s no cause for me to ask him to do so. Not only that, but I would even argue that it is unwise to ask it, as it presumes wishful thinking over established fact. For example, in my prayers I don’t ask God to love me. I don’t say “Oh God, please love me. Just love me. I need you to love me. Will you love me.” I don’t do that because I am already thoroughly loved by the saviour. When I ask Jesus to take a concrete action which he has already done, it distorts the reality and the magnitude of what he has already done. It’s bad theology because it tacitly questions settled acts of the saviour and cast them in a unbiblical light, which then reinforces the bad theology. It’s like saying “Jesus, show yourself to be God.” He’s been there, done that, and has the holes in his wrists to prove it.
Instead of saying “God forgive me.” the better thing would be to say something along the lines of “God, help me feel forgiven.” or “God, I know I’m forgiven, help me respond to your forgiveness better.” or “God, I hate my sins, let the fact that they are covered by your blood lead me hate them even more, that you would have to die for them.” But a believer asking God to forgive you after the fact, as if its in that moment God would actually forgive you? Ultimately that’s blasphemy, as it distorts and degrades what Jesus has already done thousands of years ago, and it’s not something that I feel comfortable saying.