As a child I once asked my earthly Father why I couldn’t ask God to forgive me for all the sins I would ever commit. It seemed like it would save a lot of time and grief. After all, I already knew that God would forgive me later for sins I wanted to commit now. How was that different from knowing that I was already forgiven for all the future sins I would commit. I thought this preemptive forgiveness idea was a pretty good one, but for some reason I was fairly certain it didn’t work that way.
My Poppa’s answer was remarkably insightful and affected my perspective for the rest of my life. He said, “Because when God forgives you, He doesn’t believe that you will ever sin again.”
God believes in you.
God believes in your holiness. God believes in your purity. God believes in the work of His Son on the cross and in the resurrection. God does not look at us and think that we’ll inevitably sin again. He knows that it’s possible not to sin. Again, I’m not talking about Christian perfection, or reaching a place where it’s not possible for us to sin. I’m saying in any given situation at any given moment it’s possible to not sin. And God expects us to walk there.
God speaks to us from this perspective of faith. He sees our hearts and intentions and can deal very harshly with the impure in heart, but for the sincere believer who is not trying to take advantage of the gospel, God has enormous, limitless hopes. God believes in us and is an unshakable optimist when it comes to His church. One of the reasons He speaks to us at all is because He believes that we will respond and listen to His voice.
When we have a teacher, mentor, or parent who truly believes in us, we find it hard to let them down. We find ourselves working twice as hard in order to fulfill their expectations. This can become negative, subjecting us to severe pressure and a performance orientation, but it is healthy for us to respond to positive expectation with a motivated effort to fulfill the faith that has been placed in us. That external expectation makes us believe and understand what we are capable of. It pushes us to excel. God’s incredible expectation for our destiny, calling, and success should push us to excel. The prophetic expectation that hovers over our lives and speaks into our future should push us into greater things and remind us of the miracles that are possible in our calling and character. With God all things are possible. With God great things are expected.
In the Old Testament God dealt with people according to their sins. There was no remission of sins, there was only a covering. God looked at people’s past history and current hearts and prophesied their sin and destruction, yet even when God did this people still turned from their sin in unexpected ways. Jonah prophesied to Ninevah, “Yet forty days and Ninevah shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). There was no promise of forgiveness or restoration, yet the people of Ninevah repented with sackcloth, ashes, and fasting and God had mercy on them.
Today God calls people out of their sin in an even more powerful way because there is a lasting and eternal cleansing and removal of sins in the blood of His son. There is so much more power to live free. The Holy Spirit is available to empower us to live holy and walk with Him. When Jesus prophesied to Peter, “Before the rooster crows you will deny three times that you even know me,” (Mathew 26:34) He was looking at Peter’s heart and knew that He did not have the capability to resist. The shepherd would be struck and the sheep would be scattered. Peter would not escape.
Now we have a way of escape prepared by God and enforced in our lives by the movement of the Holy Spirit. God looks at our hearts and knows that at any time His children can submit to the Holy Spirit and walk through temptation unscathed. Because of this, it is extremely rare that God prophesy failure or sin into a believer’s life. While I highly value letting the Holy Spirit say what He desires and not restraining Him with my theology, I would struggle with any prophecy telling a believer that they will inevitably fall into sin. God has great hopes for our holiness. Any believer who receives such a word should rise up in faith like Ninevah and preemptively repent and seek the Lord that such a thing does not happen.
In the same way I have an even stronger disagreement with any theology or doctrine of failure. Jesus died to save us from our sins, and Jesus is not a failure. Many have been trained to expect to sin everyday, when Scripture teaches us the opposite. There are many factors that combine in this teaching: God’s foreknowledge, our definition of sin, and our understanding of key passages like Romans 7 all must be considered. We can hardly lay out a holistic teaching on sanctification here, but we can invite you to hear God’s voice of expectation, removing the past and restoring a future of success and holiness. While we may make mistakes in the heat of the moment or struggle in our hearts, we can live about a deliberate (or in some translations “presumptuous”) sin and choose holiness and purity.
Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:35-36). “Free indeed” is certainly a far cry from “we all sin everyday.”
This post can only scratch the surface. More on this to come!