[This answer is adapted from Grace Revolution, chapter 17, Release the Power to Reign.]
There is a teaching that argues there is a difference between “judicial forgiveness” and “parental forgiveness.” Judicial forgiveness refers to God’s forgiveness of all our sins because of the penalty that Jesus paid on our behalf on the cross. On the other hand, while all our sins are forgiven judicially, we are out of fellowship with God when we commit a sin—until we confess that sin to receive parental forgiveness.
If you go by this teaching, you will always feel you are lacking in parental forgiveness, simply because there will always be sins (in thought or deed) you have not confessed. And if you live by this doctrine, you can’t conveniently pick and choose which sins you need or want to confess. The bottom line is that you won’t have full assurance of your forgiveness in Christ. You will always be sin-conscious and doubt your forgiveness, and both your conscience and the devil will exploit this.
So are you forgiven or are you not? Which is it? The Bible isn’t uncertain with something as critical as your forgiveness of sins, but deals with it with great clarity. Where do we see this? In Acts 13:38–39, the apostle Paul clearly declares, “Through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
Can the forgiveness of sins be made any clearer? The apostle Paul preached the forgiveness of sins with no apology, no qualifications, and no distinction between judicial and parental forgiveness. So be careful of these man-made distinctions that are not in God’s Word. Forgiveness is forgiveness; there are no subdivisions. You are either forgiven or you are not, and how much you enjoy your forgiveness depends on what you believe about our Lord Jesus and what He has done on the cross.
Scripture is crystal-clear regarding our complete forgiveness in Christ. Yet there are some who feel the need to whisper to Apostle Paul, “Be careful, Paul, you can’t preach forgiveness like this—you need to qualify what you are saying. There is no telling who is listening to you and how they will live.” To these critics of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of His forgiveness, Paul lovingly but firmly gives the warning in the next two verses, saying, “Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: ‘Behold, you despisers, marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, a work which you will by no means believe, though one were to declare it to you’ ” (Acts 13:40–41).
The prophets already foresaw that there would be despisers of the gospel of grace—those who would hear it, but dismiss it as being “too good to be true.” Paul warned and reminded those who heard him not to be numbered among those despisers.
If you are still confused and wondering about the concept of “parental forgiveness,” let me share with you what the Bible says. In fact, you need look no further than Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. When the father saw his son coming toward home from afar, what did the father do? Did the father shout to him, “First confess your sins, my son, then you’ll be welcomed home”? Remember, the son had insulted his father when he demanded his inheritance, left home, and then promptly squandered all his inheritance on riotous living. Eventually, when he couldn’t possibly sink any lower, he decided to return to his father’s house.
This story is really about a father forgiving his son, and I want you to pay attention to what Jesus says because He is talking about His own heavenly Father here. The father saw the son from afar and did this: he pulled up his long robes and started running toward his son. Notice that the father ran to his son before the son confessed any sin. The father then met his son and embraced him. Again, which happened first? Did the son confess his sins first, or did the father embrace him first? The father’s embrace came first! That’s not all. After the father had embraced his son, he kissed him. The son, who had had to work in a pigpen just before his return, probably smelled like a pig—the pits for a Jew. Yet the father rained kisses on his son. Did you notice that up to this point, there is no record of the son’s making a single confession of sin?
The prodigal son does eventually say, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and in your sight” (Luke 15:21), but that is after the father ran to him, embraced him, and kissed him. So we know it is not the son’s confession that produced the hugs and kisses of the father. Now answer this question: is this parental or judicial forgiveness? Remember, the father here is a picture of our heavenly Father. So Jesus’ parable is showing us clearly what real, biblical, parental forgiveness is and looks like. This is what the Father wants us to understand about His forgiveness. There is no judicial, as opposed to parental, forgiveness with God. You are simply and really forgiven because of His Son.
Let me point you to another verse that the Lord gave me, to give you full assurance of your forgiveness:
I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.
—1 John 2:12
Notice how 1 John 2:12 opens up with, “I write to you, little children” (emphasis mine). “Little children” denotes the “parental” aspect of the forgiveness that God gives. So what does God the Father want us to understand about “parental forgiveness”? That our sins are forgiven because of Jesus. And the original Greek word for “are forgiven” is in the Greek perfect tense, which means this forgiveness is a definite action completed in the past with its effect continuing into the present.1
The Word of God makes this clear in no uncertain terms: you have been and you continue to be forgiven. Amen! Because of this, in your darkest moments, and even when you have failed, you can say with boldness and confidence, “I am the righteousness of God in Christ. I have forgiveness of sins, and God loves me and is for me. It is well with my soul!”
1. Retrieved February 13, 2015, from www.preceptaustin.org/greek_quick_reference_guide.