I’ve received a number of questions about a recent series of online articles disputing the idea that Jesus died for all our sins, past, present, and future on the cross. The articles make the claim that the Bible teaches no such thing. So let’s find out. Does the Bible teach that all the sins of our life were forgiven at the cross or doesn’t it?
Colossians 2:13-14 reads as follows, When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
The Greek word translated all in this passage is pas. It means each, every, any, all, the whole, all things, everything. This would seem to support the claim that all sins past present and future were forgiven at the cross. It also supports Paul’s statement that at the moment of belief the Holy Spirit was sealed within us as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory(Ephes. 1:13-14).
Taken literally, this means the Holy spirit is the down payment that guarantees the redemption of the acquired possession (us). This guarantee went into effect when we first believed. (By the way, for those of you who only speak King James-ese, all translation interpretations on this site are from the Greek text that brought forth the King James Version.)
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us,set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
This tells us that God has established us as His and has placed His seal upon us as well. A seal is meant to authenticate ownership, placing it beyond doubt. It’s similar to the brand a rancher places on his cattle. 1 Cor. 6:19 says we are no longer ours, we were bought with a price. The price was the life of His Son Jesus. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee that God, who acquired us, will also redeem us.
Hebrews 10:12-14 states that Jesus offered Himself as a once for all time sacrifice for sin that has made us perfect forever.
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Once for all time means it applies from the beginning of the Age of Man to the end and continuously throughout. That includes the entire life of every believer. In offering Himself as our sacrifice for sin He has made perfect forever we who are being made Holy. This is an expansion of the writer’s claim in Hebrews 7:25to the effect that because Jesus lives forever He is able to save us forever. (These verses prove that all interpretations of Hebrews 6:4-6 and Hebrews 10:26-27that are used to deny eternal security are incorrect on their face. The same author, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could not contradict himself so radically).
Notice the sacrifice made us perfect forever, even though we’re still in the process of being made Holy. That’s a job that won’t be finished until the rapture/resurrection.
Being made perfect forever is what Paul meant when he said, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17). The verbs here are in the past perfect tense. That means from God’s perspective this is all over and done. Paul said that by accepting the Lord’s death as payment for all our sins we’ve become as righteous as God is (2 Cor. 5:21).
These statements are all consistent. Individually and collectively they clearly show that all the sins of our life are forgiven from the moment we first believe. And there’s not a single verse in the New Testament that contradicts, modifies, or retracts these promises. After all, how could God guarantee our salvation from the moment of belief unless all the sins of our life were paid for and forgiven at the cross?
But We Still Sin!
So how can we reconcile this with the undeniable fact that we still sin? Remember, in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus explained that sin begins with a thought, whether action follows or not. Anger is as much a sin as murder, lust is as much a sin as adultery. He could also have said coveting is as much a sin as theft, and so on. The writer of Hebrews told us that continuing to work to earn or keep our salvation is equivalent to breaking the commandment to keep the Sabbath (Hebrews 4). And James said whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). It’s only by using the blood of Jesus to wash away all the sins of our life that God could make good on His promise to guarantee our inheritance. Here’s how He does it.
Because we’ve been born again, God chooses to see us as the perfect being we will be after the rapture /resurrection. He can do this because He’s outside of time. Remember, eternity is not just a lot of time. Eternity is the absence of time altogether and God inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15). Remember God telling Adam that in the day he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would die? (Genesis 2:17) When Adam and Eve disobeyed, they didn’t die then and there. But although they lived for several hundred more years, they were changed from immortal to mortal on that day. Their eventual death became a certainty and God who is outside time saw it at the moment they sinned.
Becoming born again is the exact opposite. We didn’t actually become immortal on that day but our immortality was made certain, and from that time on God saw us as immortal beings. He inspired Paul to write, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17). Although to us we’re still much the same, to God we became a new creation on the day we accepted the Lord’s death as payment for our sins. He now sees us as being as righteous as He is (2 Cor. 5:21). This righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:22).
Paul explained how God is able to do this in Romans 7:18-20. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
For a born again believer, God has separated the sin from the sinner. God sees our sins as a holdover from the old us and does not consider them to be part of the new us.
What Should Be Our Response To This?
Does this mean we’re free to sin all we want? Are the legalists correct in saying that if God didn’t threaten us with the loss of our salvation we would all become the worst kind of depraved sinners? Millions of born again believers whose lives are radically different stand as evidence to the contrary. We all still sin from time to time but the direction and focus of our lives is not the same as it once was, and we can testify to the fact that we’ve been changed. Although Paul said everything is permissible, he also said not everything is beneficial or constructive. Therefore we no longer seek our own good but the good of others (1 Cor. 10:23-24) in the hope of winning the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14). Paul was not talking about his salvation, which he already had, but rewards he hoped to receive at the Bema Seat judgment (1 Cor. 3:10-15) after the rapture.
This is why the loss of our salvation is never threatened. Our belief in our eventual immortality matches what God has already seen for us, and in the meantime we strive to heed Paul’s advice to live up to what we have already attained (Phil 3:16). This is our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1) in gratitude for what we’ve been freely and irrevocably given.
But what about those true believers who don’t respond with gratitude and who don’t seem to have changed, living pretty much the way they did before they were saved? Is the gift rescinded? The promise broken? The guarantee revoked? I haven’t found a single verse that threatens them in this way. How could there be when all the sins of their life are paid for, including the sin of ingratitude.
What I’ve found is that for the most part, these ungrateful souls live defeated lives here and forfeit rewards in the hereafter. These are the ones Paul said will still be saved but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor. 3:15).
Here on Earth they have union with out fellowship, never experiencing any intimacy with God. As a result their Christian walk consists of movement without progress, battles without victories, and service without success. They’re on the right side of pardon but the wrong side of power, having justification without sanctification.
Jesus described them in the parable of the sower and the seed, saying they’re like the seed that fell among thorns. It germinates and grows but because it’s choked by the thorns, it never matures to bear fruit. Because these believers are too concerned with the ways of the world, they never mature as Christians and never produce anything of value to the Kingdom (Matt. 13:22). At the Bema Seat they’ll stand before the Lord with nothing to show for the incredible gift they were given because they will fave failed to implement the wonderful plan He had for their lives.
The New Testament is crammed with admonitions and encouragement to allow the Holy Spirit to change the focus of our lives from the things of this world to the things of the next one, from the things we can see, which are temporary, to the things we cannot, which are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18), to be made new in the attitudes of our mind (Ephesians 4:23) no longer conforming to the patterns of this world (Romans 12:2). In short, to live up to what we’ve already attained (Phil. 3:16).
Some believers who fail to heed these admonitions will find themselves having escaped judgment simply because on a single day in their otherwise unremarkable life they made a decision that changed everything. For some it will be the only smart decision they ever made, but they will have made it in faith, which is all that matters (Ephesians 2:8-9) because having made it, all the sins of their miserable existence were forgiven and they became a child of God (John 1:12-13), adopted into His forever family (Gal. 4:4-5).
When the time comes, those who failed to make that decision would gladly trade the riches of the world to change places with them. But as indescribably generous as the gift they received on that day is, it was only the first installment on the life they could have had. Whether out of ignorance or rebellion they turned down the rest, refusing to allow the Holy Spirit to guide them into it, until finally the still small voice within them could no longer be heard.
I sometimes wonder if the loss some will suffer at the Bema Seat (1 Cor. 3:15) will appear as endless warehouses of unclaimed blessing or if the tears the Lord wipes from their eyes will be tears of regret upon learning what they could have done through Him had they responded to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Only time will tell. But at least, it will all be in the past, because Rev. 21:4 goes on to say that from then on there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things will have passed away. All their sins were forgiven from the day they first believed.