Is my asking forgiveness from God a santification issue rather than a salvation issue?

I’ve attended church all my life and have taken many teachings for granted. Now that I am digging deeper in order to teach the next generation, I’m becoming curious about the role of forgiveness in salvation. Christ’s blood atones for my sin. In that sense, I’m forgiven. I’m saved by grace through faith. However, my faith is dead and meaningless unless it’s followed up with fruit (deeds/obedience) in keeping with repentance. So my salvation is me saying, “I believe, Jesus, in your grace. I repent of my evil ways. The proof of my repentance is Spirit-empowered obedience to your commands.” My salvation isn’t me saying, “God forgive me of my sins.” The sins of the world are forgiven corporately on the cross, but realized individually through faith and repentant action. Is that right? So, are the verses of forgiveness in the Bible pointing toward sanctification instead of salvation? The passage of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet tells me I’m already forgiven and made clean through my faith (salvation) but my “feet” still need cleaned through the confessing of sin and seeking forgiveness (sanctification). For my salvation, I think I’ve just trusted too much in a forgiveness-focused prayer rather than my heartfelt repentance.


Hmm, I’ll tell you what, @meganlinth - I got a bit tangled up in that question - it had several inter-related elements that made me think that perhaps the best way to answer it was to simply share my view on forgiveness, salvation and sanctification, and let you see if it answers what you were asking about.

I believe that on the cross, Christ paid the penalty for every sin of every human from Adam to the end. So when any sinner repents and turns in faith to the gospel of Christ, His payment immediately applies to that penitent believer. All of the hell that the believer would have suffered for his own sins is now forever removed - Romans 8:1, There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Notice that last part of the verse - who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. That’s not a condition of salvation - it’s a description of it. Because one of the many things that take place in a new believer’s life at the moment of salvation is the entrance of the Holy Spirit into his heart and life (Romans 8:9). Another is the death of the old sinner he used to be on the inside (Romans 6:6).

So the sin nature that once misled your soul on the inside has been replaced with the divine nature (II Peter 1:4) that leads you to follow Christ - the lifelong process of sanctification. It is that new Spirit within you which drives you to live a new life.

However, while the sin nature inside you has now been replaced by the indwelling Holy Spirit, that hasn’t happened in your body on the outside yet. The sin nature in your flesh - your carnal nature - is still very much driven to sin. And so the new nature inside is in a constant tug of war with the old nature outside (Galatians 5:17). And this sanctification process is constantly demanding that you deny the flesh and submit to the Spirit.

But when a Christian falls to the flesh, it’s not his salvation that’s at issue, but rather the quality of his fellowship. When we let unconfessed sin come between us and God, it distracts our prayers, clouds our understanding of His word, makes us feel useless for His cause, and leads us to question His love for us.

So Christians confess their sins (I John 1:9) and forsake them (Proverbs 28:13) and ask God for forgiveness and victory over them (Hebrews 4:16), not because they are concerned about their salvation itself, but because the Spirit living inside them feels miserable over sin (Ephesians 4:30) and is vexed by it (II Peter 2:7-9). Salvation absolutely ruins a person for sin - they can never be comfortable with it any more.

After rereading your questions, it seems that for the most part, what you are saying seems consistent with what I have answered. Does it seem that way to you as well? Are there any finer points that you would like to address?


Thank you Megan for sharing your thoughts, I very much concur with @jlyons response on forgiveness salvation and sanctification.
Hopefully it helps… :pray:


Hi Megan,
I hope that my sharing my personal understanding will help to answer your question.

I am so grateful to serve a personal God who sees me, knows me and in spite of all my faults, he still loves me, and it is His desire for me to know Him.

As you said, He died for the world; but according to John 3:16-18, only those who believe will be saved and live with Him for eternity.

He has given us a choice. This is really the ultimate love that he would die such a hideous death on the cross for the world, knowing that some may not receive this gift.

  1. Forgiveness is first for salvation.
    We accept that Jesus died and rose again that we could live with him for eternity.
    I am not talking about after we die. So, what is eternity?
    John 17:3 says “And this is eternal life that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ (He wants us to know Him)

  2. We repent and receive forgiveness.
    Here’s where some people get caught up. Many ask why do I need to repent? I am a good person. I follow the 10 Commandments, etc.
    Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

To understand this we must go back to the fall of Adam and Eve and recognize that was the beginning of sin and darkness, which is the separation from God. We were born into this because of their choice. We can try to be good, to do the right thing… but how we fail. Because, God knew us, because he loved us, he made provision and he came to earth as a Human in Jesus Christ.
When we come to the cross to repent we come to God, who is the light. He exposes our sin and he washes us and that is when eternity begins. That is the new life.

So first we accept Jesus, repent, receive salvation, and are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit

  1. We Christians are all in process, imperfect people who realize they are not perfect and need forgiveness, sometimes daily, sometimes more.
    Through this process of faith, God’s work in us, (sanctification) we become like a mirror reflecting God to others.

Gal 2:20, 1John 1:9, 1Thess 5:23, Phil 1:6, Phil 2:13, Ephesians 1:13

Well, Dear One, I hope this helps and is not too long winded.
May God glory in you, as you walk with Him.

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lol! I’m tangled up too! (obviously). Thank you for your response @jlyons. I of course agree with everything you pointed out (as well as what the others have said).

This is where I think I’m getting tripped up. Just as the rich man asked Jesus, “What must I do to be saved?” This religious girl is asking the same question. Verses like the following can haunt me: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Mt. 7:21-23). We are all prone to self-deception, myself included. I’m trying to discern truth, albeit through the splitting of hairs I realize.

I haven’t yet found a verse which states, “Confess your sins and be forgiven in order to be saved.” When I look at verses on salvation I see the following:

“Peter replied, ‘Repent (which in Greek literally means to think differently after a change of mind) and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.’” Acts 2:38

“For it is by grace (which is Christ’s work on the cross giving me salvation) you have been saved, through faith…” Eph. 2:8

“…whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jn. 3:16

“…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” Rom 10:9

I have not yet found a verse that specifically says, “CONFESS YOUR SINS” in order to be saved. However, I know it can be and should be inferred when surrendering one’s life to His lordship.

Why am I splitting hairs? It feels like if one believes that she must confess her sins in order to be saved, then every time she sins without confessing, she may be tempted to believe she’s lost her salvation, especially if these unconfessed sins start to build up. She’s trusting in her confession of sins rather than Christ’s work of grace. I think it has the twisted potential to lead to a works-based, self-righteous gospel. That’s why, in my mind, I’m linking “confessing of sins” to sanctification rather than salvation. I just wanted to know what others thought. Thanks!

Well, I think you are right on target with that. Confessing sins to clear the air between you and Christ to restore good fellowship is not at all the same as the repentance unto salvation to begin with.

But it is a penitent attitude that characterizes the life of a believer.

I have often said that the Christian walk is simply an unbroken continuation of everything that was going on in the heart of a believer at the moment he first came to Christ.

Did the Holy Spirit convict you and draw you to Christ at the start? Then the journey that follows will be an unbroken continuation of the Spirit’s prompting and prodding and provoking you to live for Christ.

Were you humble and repentant when you came to Christ? Then the journey that follows will be an unbroken continuation of humility and sensitivity to sin.

Was the old person you used to be crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6) when you came to Him? Then in the journey that follows you’ll continue to die daily to self.

Were you raised to new life at the moment of your spiritual birth? Then the new life of the Spirit will continue in you thereafter.

In short, your salvation moment was simply the first step in a new direction that continues thereafter - it was the first step on a journey of eternal worship.

So the believer’s ongoing confession of sins is simply a continuation in the spirit of repentance that began at salvation. I do not see any problem with your concluding statement - that confession for one who is already a believer is an aspect of his sanctification.

And I commend you on your desire to help your struggling friend.

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Thanks so much @jlyons.

Sometimes it’s hard for one raised attending church, who made a childlike decisions for Christ around 5 years old and “rededicated” that life at every mountain top experience throughout childhood, to clearly identify that “old person” transformed to “new creation in Christ” moment. For that reason, I think the temptation is for grace to get lost on the one raised attending church all her life. And that individual often finds herself trusting in good works, confusing sanctification with salvation.

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Well, it is true that there are pros and cons to everything. I was saved out of a wild life of sin, and there was a very stark transformation that marked my life. My wife was saved as a child of 6, led to Christ by her own mother, and grew up in church all her life. So the change in her was far less obvious. But I’m the first to admit that I liked her testimony far better than mine. Sometimes God saves people out of depravity, sometimes he saves them from ever entering it. And God uses one person’s testimony to reach these and another’s to reach those.

May God use you to reach you friend!


This is a great question, and one I’ve struggled with myself. I enjoyed reading the discussion. I’d like to add two thoughts.

First, 1 John 1:9 has already been referred to…let me dissect that a bit: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So confession is the condition, and forgiveness and cleansing is the result. But while forgiveness and cleansing is promised to those who confess, confession does not of itself produce either forgiveness or cleansing (either in the sense of salvation or sanctification). It is not meritorious in that sense. The criminal who pleads guilty is no less guilty because of that plea. The life of King Saul of Israel gives a potent illustration; he confessed multiple times, but was neither forgiven nor cleansed, and was in fact rejected. Rather, God chooses to forgive and cleanse on the basis of His own faithfulness and righteousness. He does so when our confession is an expression of truth penetrating our heart, and of faith reaching for His proffered grace. This sort of confession results, through the gift of God, in forgiveness, cleansing, and fellowship with Him and other believers (see the rest of 1 John 1) — rather like a certain sort of seed, when planted and watered, results in a certain sort of fruit (in this case, the fruit of repentance).

I think we would do well to give due attention to the prayer “I have sinned,” before jumping too quickly to “Please forgive me.” Begging for the latter while neglecting the former misses the point; and a pattern of this may reveal a selfish motive that simply wants to avoid pain and punishment, and cares little for real truth, or the glory of Almighty God. This leads me to my second point.

There is a higher purpose than my own salvation: it is the glory of God. As it is, God has graciously ordained that our salvation would express and display His glory, so they go together. But this is a gift of grace. God would be no less worthy of glory (and obedience) had He not given salvation. This is a potent point of self-examination: am I seeking God mainly to obtain salvation, or primarily because of His all-surpassing worthiness? Paris Reidhead gave poignant expression to this idea in a message which you can read here:

I have come to think that, while many may believe in Christ, this sort of attitude and pursuit of God’s glory is excellent evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in a person. For a deep dive into what sorts of goals and desires (“affections”) characterize the life of “true religion”, I would highly recommend Jonathan Edwards’ classic, The Religious Affections. Also, John Piper’s Desiring God is an excellent and potentially life-changing discussion of how our salvation — indeed, our satisfaction and joy — meshes together with God’s glory as the ultimate purpose (and is an easier read than Edwards).

I pray that we, with the saints of all ages, will be awestruck with the glory and grace of our Father in Heaven. May He bless and guide you @meganlinth on the journey.

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Hello Megan,

I too began my faith at a very early age, before differences between salvation and sanctification were even on the table for me.

It feels like if one believes that she must confess her sins in order to be saved, then every time she sins without confessing, she may be tempted to believe she’s lost her salvation, especially if these unconfessed sins start to build up. She’s trusting in her confession of sins rather than Christ’s work of grace. I think it has the twisted potential to lead to a works-based, self-righteous gospel.

It is interesting that you bring this up, as this is one of the ways the Church of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) twists the gospel. In fact, I am sure one person I know believes the very untruth you have mentioned.
I can see why Matthew 7:21-23 would cause you worry. It is supposed to. Jesus is talking to a culture where God was at the center, but many of the religious leaders were only following in actions, not in faith or humility. Jesus makes it very clear in this passage that mere actions do not save. What did the people lack? Jesus did not know them and neither did they know him. It is easy to judge the Israelites for making a golden calf to represent God, but we (even Christians) can do the same thing and make Jesus or God into something he is not. My LDS friend certainly has. She believes she knows Christ and is guaranteed a heaven of some sort, but the horrible truth is that she does not know Him and He does not “know” her and she is bound for hell. When you read this verse, remember all who do not really know Him. Time is short for them to come to know Christ before it is too late, thus the urgency of the call to spread the Gospel.

Thus, I commend you for bringing this up. We are not in jeopardy every time we sin after we have been saved, but (as jlyons mentioned) it affects our relationship with God and with others. Repenting is part of the sanctification process where tiny step by tiny step, we become more like Christ, and is one of the fruits of salvation. As we become more like Him, He can use us in more amazing ways, until things happen where we look back and say, “That wasn’t me, that was God!”

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