Within Protestantism, there are some groups who hold to a position of “Once Saved, Always Saved.” This of course is not the Catholic position. But within those groups, they often believe that when a person is saved, all of their sins (past, present and future) are forgiven at that moment. If a person believes that there is indeed nothing they can do to severe their relationship with Christ, it seems it would only make sense that all of their future sins, no matter how grievous those sins may be or how unrepentant the person is, would be automatically forgiven at the moment of salvation.
When we turn to Sacred Scripture, there is no passage that says that at the moment of salvation all of our sins, to include future ones are forgiven. There are some passages that speak to how our sins have been forgiven, but they specifically reference our past sins, and glaringly omit that this forgiveness extends to future sins.
St. Peter writes “For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” (2 Peter 1:8-9). And St. Paul writes “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:25).
Perhaps even more important is that we are told by Christ to pray daily for the forgiveness of our sins, which would not be necessary if they had already been forgiven – “Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts; As we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:11-12). And we are told by St. John that God forgives our sins if we confess them – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). How can we confess sins that are in the future? And if forgiveness requires confession, how can unrepentant sin ever be forgiven?
One answer I’ve seen from a Protestant perspective on how they reconcile the need to confess sins in order to receive forgiveness with the idea that all of our future sins are already forgiven is to separate forgiveness into two kinds – relational and positional. An example of that thinking:
“At the same time, 1 John 1:9 does indicate that somehow forgiveness is dependent on our confessing our sins to God. How does this work if all of our sins are forgiven the moment we receive Christ as Savior? It seems that what the apostle John is describing here is ‘relational’ forgiveness. All of our sins are forgiven ‘positionally’ the moment we receive Christ as Savior. This positional forgiveness guarantees our salvation and promise of an eternal home in heaven. When we stand before God after death, God will not deny us entrance into heaven because of our sins. That is positional forgiveness. The concept of relational forgiveness is based on the fact that when we sin, we offend God and grieve His Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). While God has ultimately forgiven us of the sins we commit, they still result in a blocking or hindrance in our relationship with God. A young boy who sins against his father is not cast out of the family. A godly father will forgive his children unconditionally. At the same time, a good relationship between father and son cannot be achieved until the relationship is restored. This can only occur when a child confesses his mistakes to his father and apologizes. That is why we confess our sins to God—not to maintain our salvation, but to bring ourselves back into close fellowship with the God who loves us and has already forgiven us.”
I am left to question regarding this view — what would happen in the case where a person dies who has been “positionally” forgiven of all their sins so therefore won’t be denied heaven, and yet their soul is in a state of sin that blocks their relationship with God? Can a person be in heaven and not be in full and complete relationship with God? I think most would say no, but this position seems to create a conflict that would still need to be resolved in relation to the forgiveness of sins. You can’t automatically qualify for heaven but be in a state of sin such that it blocks close fellowship with God.
From the Catholic perspective, there is nothing in Sacred Scripture that indicates that the forgiveness of sins has two different categories. It seems to be very much starting with a specific premise (Once Saved, Always Saved) and then developing a false construct (two different kinds of forgiveness) in order to explain the clear statement in Scripture that we receive forgiveness of sins by confessing them. It also denies that later in the same letter where St. John tells us that we must confess our sins to receive God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9), he also tells us that there is sin that is deadly, or mortal (1 John 5:16).
So from the Catholic perspective, in order for sins to be forgiven we must repent and confess those sins. My next post will continue looking at the Scriptural basis for the sacrament of Reconciliation.