Should Christians Pray for the Forgiveness of Their Sins?
“A brother contends that no Christian today needs to pray ‘for the forgiveness of his sins,’ since, according to 1 John 1:7, the blood of Christ is continually cleansing him (the significance, he says, of the present tense in Greek).”
It is a tragic reality that some members of the church, though they may be sincere initially, evolve some of the most irrational ideas. Then, for reasons known only to them and God, appear to be set for the defense of these notions in spite of ample evidence against them. They “dig in” to maintain a novel theory that, perhaps, in a strange way, provides them with a sense of importance.
The view described above certainly could fit into that category. Let me say several things in response to this brother’s position.
Walking in the Light
First, 1 John 1:7 teaches that we have on-going forgiveness only so long as we “walk in the light.” A part of that “light” reveals that we petition God for forgiveness — which this brother obviously is not doing, since he believes such is unnecessary. He thus is not “walking in the light” — though he may be very sincere in his conviction.
Besides that, the Greek present tense does not necessarily demand that which is uninterrupted continuously. It may denote sustained activity (as illustrated by a straight line), or it may denote intermittent activity (as illustrated by a dotted line).
For further discussion, see our book, Treasures From The Greek New Testament, Chapter 7 available at Christian Courier Publications.
Does 1 John 1:7 imply unconditional forgiveness independent of prayer? It absolutely does not.
The Model Prayer
The model prayer (Mt. 6:9-13) contains principles which are timeless. It is not restricted to circumstances which obtained exclusively before the cross.
Have we no need to pray for our “daily bread” now? And what of a petition for deliverance from temptation? Was that merely a pre-cross need? Even the request “may your kingdom come,” can have a post-cross application (cf. 2 Tim. 4:18; Rev. 22:20).
So we also ought to pray, “forgive us our trespasses,” as Christ instructed his faithful disciples.
The Case of Simon
Furthermore, the brother has made an artificial abstraction with reference to Simon (Acts 8). There is no evidence that Simon was a “total apostate.” So far as the record reveals, he had erred in only one particular, that of attempting to buy a “gift” of God to which he was not entitled. Peter therefore told the erring brother to “repent and pray” in order that he might enjoy forgiveness.
Obviously Peter felt that the wayward brother could be forgiven; otherwise, his admonition is but a mockery. One might as well argue that no Christian ever needs to repent, since the blood of Jesus “continuously cleanses” him of his sin. “Repent” and “pray” are coordinate conditions in Acts 8:22.
Confessing Our Sins
Then this, James connects the act of “confessing” one’s faults with praying (Jas. 5:16). He also speaks of converting a “brother” from error, thus saving his soul from death (v. 20). This context associates prayer with forgiveness on behalf of an erring saint.
Prayer for our Brethren
John explicitly affirms that one can “ask” God for “life,” (i.e., forgiveness) on behalf of a brother who commits a sin “not unto death,” (i.e., one repented of, and confessed his sin; cf. 1 Jn. 1:9). This passage makes no sense if the doctrine advocated by the brother in question is true.
Does this mean that if a devout Christian were suddenly killed in a tragic accident he would die lost if he had not momentarily earlier specifically prayed for the forgiveness of his sins? Of course not.
But it does suggest that the saint’s life must be characterized by sincere prayer, a portion of which acknowledges our constant tendency toward sin, and so consistently petitions the Heavenly Father for pardon.
Scripture references: John 1:7; 1 John 1:7; Matthew 6:9-13; Revelation 22:20; Acts 8; Acts 8:22; James 5:16; John 1:9