How to Ask Forgiveness

He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. (1 John 1:9)

I recall hearing one of my professors in seminary say that one of the best tests of a person’s theology was the effect it has on our prayers.

This struck me as true because of what was happening in my own life. Noël and I had just been married and we were making it our practice to pray together each evening. I noticed that during the biblical courses which were shaping my theology most profoundly, my prayers were changing dramatically.

Probably the most significant change in those days was that I was learning to make my case before God on the ground of his glory. Beginning with “Hallowed be Thy name” and ending with “In Jesus’s name” meant that the glory of God’s name was the goal and the ground of everything I prayed.

And what a strength came into my life when I learned that praying for forgiveness should be based not only on an appeal to God’s mercy, but also on an appeal to his justice in crediting the worth of his Son’s obedience. God is faithful and just and will forgive your sins (1 John 1:9).

In the New Testament, the basis of all forgiveness of sins is revealed more clearly than it was in the Old Testament, but the basis, namely, God’s commitment to his name, does not change.

Paul teaches that the death of Christ demonstrated God’s righteousness in passing over sins, and vindicated God’s justice in justifying the ungodly who bank on Jesus and not themselves (Romans 3:25–26).

In other words, Christ died once for all to clear the name of God in what looks like a gross miscarriage of justice — the acquittal of guilty sinners simply for Jesus’s sake. But Jesus died in such a way that forgiveness “for Jesus’s sake” is the same as forgiveness “for the sake of God’s name.” There is no miscarriage of justice. God’s name, his righteousness, his justice is vindicated in the very act of providing such a God-honoring sacrifice.

As Jesus said as he faced that last hour, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27–28). That is exactly what he did — so that he might be both just and the justifier of those who trust in Jesus (Romans 3:26).