Prayer 3: “God, forgive me.”
Once people feel the full weight of what they have done by their sin, they often move into fix-it mode. They want to do a greater amount of good than the harm they have done. Or they want to penalize themselves in some way, as if they could in that way pay for their wrongdoing. Some people would like the third prayer of repentance to be “God, watch me make up for what I have done.” But no, that will not do. All such efforts must be futile. We can only go to God in faith and plead, “Forgive me.”
God’s forgiveness is an extraordinary thing. Because of His unmatched love, it comes as a free gift to those who are prepared to humble themselves before Him. One person, indeed, did have to pay for sin (other people’s sin)—that was Christ dying on the cross. Now He has the power to forgive our sins when we turn to Him in repentance. Freely He grants this forgiveness.
The sacrificial system of the Old Testament era offered a set of rituals by which one could seek forgiveness. But as the book of Hebrews says, in Christ we have a better way. “He came once for all time, at the end of the age, to remove the power of sin forever by His sacrificial death for us” (Hebrews 9:26). The work has been done. All we have to do is ask for forgiveness, and it will be given to us. Our guilt is gone!
The prayer for forgiveness is so important that Jesus made it a part of the model prayer He gave us: “Forgive us our sins” (Matthew 6:12). As often as we need to pray this, we can pray it. And as often as we do pray it in sincerity, God will grant our request for the sake of Christ.
John expressed the free nature of Christ’s forgiveness of sin when he wrote, “If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong” (1 John 1:9).
Prayer 4: “God, cleanse me.”
We are all sinners and none of us can remove the spiritually staining effects of our sin. We need the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit to wash us clean, spiritually, when we repent. “God, cleanse me,” we pray. And He says, “I will!” Yet some do not want to proceed to this stage of repentance.
Here is the Lord’s promise to all who sense themselves blemished by their sinful wrongs and desire to be cleansed: “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
King David understood the need for cleansing from sin. After his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, he composed Psalm 51 as a hymn pleading for purification on the basis of his “broken and repentant heart” (verse 17). He invited God to purify him with hyssop and wash him “whiter than snow” (verse 7). He asked God to create in him “a clean heart” and renew in him “a right spirit” (verse 10). The opening of the psalm runs like this:
Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)
There is no better feeling than to know you are purified and able to stand before a pure and holy God.