I do pray for forgiveness, but I am not sure if my sins have been forgiven. How do I find out that my sins are truly forgiven? I would be so happy if I just knew that. I have the feeling that it is still not quite in order.
This is how not only older people voice themselves, also from young people you can hear these sentiments.
In any case it is clear that you have to receive forgiveness. Of course, there are people who in their thinking do not come to this point. When they have sinned, they forgive themselves. At the same time they will bring up various excuses, which in themselves already bear the character of forgiving yourself. For, if I compare it with what others do, it’s not really that bad with me. Thus, they are not quite concerned about their own sins. Essentially, they do not even have to receive forgiveness.
Others believe that, when they have sinned, it is obvious that God will forgive these sins. That is what God does! Their starting point is that with God there is always forgiveness. That is “normal”. They have been raised that if you tell God that you were wrong, he “of course” forgives and then you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Somewhat compassionately they look down on people who worry about whether their sins have indeed been forgiven.
Sometimes you also deal with those who “believe” that at their time of baptism all their sins have been washed away and therefore you can rest assured that these sins have been forgiven. What is there to be troubled about?
When the Lord discovers you in your sins, it is not “a given” that he forgives you the sins. It is a wonder and it also becomes a great wonder for you that he wants to forgive you. It is one great wonder that it says in Psalm 130, “With you there is forgiveness.” But, then you think, with him there is forgiveness, but how do I become partaker of that? For I do have to receive all of it, very personally, to be able to enjoy it.
It matters to believe that your sins have been forgiven. Without faith you do not have that assurance. Only by faith you will be saved. Only by faith do you partake in the forgiveness of your sins. That is the only way.
Believing is nothing different than to trust the Lord at his Word and to say after him what he has already said. In other words, it is to believe the Lord at his Word.
And for that reason, there is no other way than in the first place to listen to what he says. Hence you want to read in the Word of God as to what he promises. One of the most beautiful things is that he promises forgiveness of sins, of all your sins. That is a promise! How often don’t you read that in his Word!
Because we struggle so much to believe him at his Word, the Lord comes even closer to us with his promises. He not only lets us hear these, but also see them!
At the time of our baptism, water came on our head. This water points us in the first place to our uncleanness. Already at baptism we are confronted with our sins. You can see them before you.
At the same time, the water points to the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from our sins. The Lord promises to cleanse us from all our sins, to forgive us all our sins.
With this promise (and with all God’s promises) we may come to him. In the first place to confess: Lord, I believe what you say. And yet, I really struggle to believe this sincerely. Please give me faith, so that I can firmly believe you in your Word. Whoever comes to him in this manner, not only voices trust in him, but also prays at the same time that the Lord will do what he has promised. And do you then think that the Lord does not hear and does not forgive?
Every time again he comes to us with the gospel and in this gospel with his promises. He allows us to hear and see this promise of forgiveness. As many times as we now believe him at his Word and accept the promise of forgiveness with a true faith, our sins will indeed be forgiven. Then it is not that our sins can be forgiven and that we may hope that at some point they will be forgiven, but they are absolutely forgiven at that moment. Then God does what he says. It gives great peace to go to God in this manner and to trust him in this manner. By faith we receive forgiveness of sins.
It happens more than once that people first want to feel that their sins are forgiven and only then want to believe that it is indeed so. You must feel it, they say. Otherwise it is not true. They are afraid that it is otherwise only a matter of the brain. But surely you must first experience it?!
It is wonderful when you feel that God has thrown all your sins behind his back, and never refers back to it, also not in the judgment.
But when do you feel this the most? When you believe! Feeling does not precede faith but follows faith. When you really love someone, there is love in your heart. You do not look at someone else. At certain moments you feel very well how much you love the other, but more than once that feeling is not so strong or it has receded to the background. Are things not okay then? Is it over and done with the love then? More and more there is room for trust, also for faithful care. At times strong feelings are there, but it is not decisive.
So, it is wonderful to feel that God looks upon you in grace and that all is well between him and you and you can enjoy this grace of God. But also, when you do not have this feeling so strongly, God’s Word remains true: your sins have been forgiven! By faith you can sing wholeheartedly: “blest is the man whose sins are forgiven, whose sins are covered in the sight of heaven” (Psalm 32). For you do not declare yourself saved. The Lord does that. By his Word and Spirit.
This article was translated by Bram Vegter.