Do some of the following statements sound familiar? “God will not hear your prayer if you have unconfessed sin in your life”. “God will not hear your prayers if you harbor bitterness against another person”. “God will not forgive you if you do not forgive others”. “If you ask God to reveal to you any sin in your life, He will do so in order for you to confess those sins, ask for forgiveness, and be made clean before Him”. “God will withhold blessings in your life if you do not confess sins”. Some would even go so far as to say that “when you sin, you lose fellowship with God.”
Maybe you have heard the old saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Many times when the Bible is read and studied, a dangerous assumption is made which leads to various faulty conclusions. Many well-meaning people make the assumption that it is acceptable to take any verse of Scripture and attempt to apply it to today’s Christian, while failing to realize the context in which many sections of the Bible were written. The entire Bible was written for our understanding but the entire Bible was not written as application for today’s Christian. Much of the Bible was written specifically to the nation of Israel and not Gentile Christians. Much of the Bible was written to motivate and inspire lost, pagan, and heathen people in order to bring them into a relationship with God. Many of the words of Jesus were not written as marching orders for Christians but should be seen as His way of showing God’s high and impossible standard of the Mosaic Law.
As you may or may not know, the Old Covenant was made between God and the nation of Israel (not Christians). The Old Covenant was a conditional covenant with blessings for those who obeyed the stipulations of the covenant and curses for those who disobeyed the covenant. God instituted this covenant with the blood of animals and set up a system of sacrifices for the nation of Israel to perform when they disobeyed the “Law” of the Covenant. When the proper animal sacrifice was offered to God in the manner that He prescribed, the blood of the animal sacrifice is said to “atone for” or “cover” the sin of the offender. God promised that one day He would provide the perfect sacrifice to offer perfect blood, not to “cover” sin but to “remove” or “take away” sin permanently. Once this perfect sacrifice was made there would no longer be any reason to offer sacrifices to God in order to pay for sin (Hebrews 10:18). When this perfect sacrifice was made by the shedding of the blood of Jesus on the cross, the New Covenant began.
The New Covenant is quite different from the Old Covenant in many significant ways. First, the New Covenant is an unconditional covenant that is not based on the imperfect performance of the recipient but on the perfect performance of Jesus on the cross. Secondly, the New Covenant is not restricted to Jews only but is available to anyone who believes, trusts, relies on the finished work of Jesus. When a person trusts in Jesus, a right relationship is established with God and also this right relationship is maintained with God (1 Peter 1:3-5). The believer has all sins forgiven, once for all (Hebrews 10:14) and has no need to ever fear God’s punishment again (Romans 8:1).
Today, many people continue to mix the Old Covenant and New Covenant as if the New Covenant is an extension of the Old. It is clear from Hebrews 10:9, “He does away with the first to establish the second” that the Old Covenant as a means to be forgiven by God has ended. The only option for forgiveness today is the New Covenant.
So how are the differences between the Old and New Covenants seen in regard to prayer? Some people will say that God cannot look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13), that He will not hear you if you regard iniquity in your heart (Psalm 66:18). If these verses are analyzed in context, one will see that the writer of Habakkuk is asking God to punish those who are mocking Him with evil deeds. Can God look upon evil? God looks at the sinful world every day. Job chapter 1 and 2 describe Satan and some of his angels presenting themselves to God. Do you think God turned His head as not to look upon evil? No, God spoke with Satan at length about Job. As far as “regarding iniquity” goes, the idea of the words in the original language speak of a person who delights in wickedness; one who likes to sin. I don’t know any born-again Christian who likes to sin. Born-again believers have been given a new clean heart that does not want to sin (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Believer’s do sin from time to time but at the heart level, do not want to do so, as illustrated by Paul in Romans 7:15-20.
Many of those who claim that “God will not hear your prayer if you have unconfessed sin in your life” also claim that when a person prays the “sinners prayer” that God responds by forgiving them of their sins and saving them from hell. If this is accurate, then how does God hear the “sinners” prayer since He cannot hear the prayers of those with unconfessed sin in their life? The truth is that according to Hebrews 4:13, God hears and sees everything, whether sinful or sinless. He sees all the good and all the bad in the world and in the hearts of mankind.
Those who say that “God will not hear your prayers if you harbor bitterness or unforgiveness against others” are teaching a conditional God with conditional promises of blessing and cursing as described in the Old Covenant. Many people look to the words of Jesus in the “Lord’s Prayer” which are recorded in Matthew 6:9-13 as a summary of how we as Christians are to pray. However, most people conveniently fail to include verses 14 and 15 which say, “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.” Why are these verses left out? Because these verses speak of conditional forgiveness. Is the forgiveness that Jesus provided by shedding His blood on the cross; a conditional forgiveness based on how a person forgives other people? Well, the obvious question is “What if I don’t fully forgive someone, does that mean that God will not fully forgive me?” If this is the case, do you remember what the penalty for sin is? The penalty for just one sin is death (Romans 6:23). So with this kind of forgiveness, only one offense means permanent eternal torment in hell. Is this really what the New Covenant is all about? I don’t think so.
When someone says, “If you ask God to reveal to you any sin in your life, He will do so in order for you to confess those sins, ask for forgiveness, and be made clean before Him”, this person obviously does not understand the New Covenant. This kind of statement is wrong on so many levels. First, why would a saved and forgiven person ask God to reveal sin in their life when God says that He has forgotten their sin? (Hebrews 10:17) Colossians 2:13-14 says that the list of sin that a saved person had accumulated before salvation was “wiped out and nailed to the cross”. In other words, God is not keeping a list of a saved persons’ sins. There is no list. You are forgiven of all past, present, and future sins!
As far as confessing of sins, in a Biblical sense Christians should always “confess” which literally means “to say the same thing”. Christians should always seek to understand God in a more intimate way in order to know what God thinks about any and all things. As the mind of the Christian is progressively renewed in order to think more in line with God, confession or agreeing with God becomes more and more routine. The problem arises when forgiveness is linked to confession. New Covenant forgiveness is only by the one-time shedding of the blood of Jesus on the cross. According to Hebrews 9:27, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Since Jesus only shed His blood once, then forgiveness can only happen once. Christians are not being forgiven progressively as they confess sins. This man-made memory-based, apology-based, sincerity-based, and sometimes obedience-based system of forgiveness has the appearance of something good but in reality is directly opposed to the finished work of Jesus.
Those who say that “God will withhold blessings in your life if you do not confess sins” seem to be living under the Old Covenant system of blessing and cursing dependent upon a person’s obedience to the Mosaic Law. Once again, the Mosaic Law was never given to Gentile Christians. God is certainly interested in the proper behavior for His children, but the proper behavior under the New Covenant originates from the Holy Spirit living inside the believer and not the external regulations of the Law (Jeremiah 31:33) Under the New Covenant, God has permanently cleansed the believer, given him a new heart, given him a new human spirit with new desires, and given him the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27) as a permanent internal guide to lead the believer in all truth (John 16:13). Unfortunately, many Christians today are teaching Old Covenant laws for New Covenant believers. This equates to nothing more than Christian Karma. If certain requirements are met, then God must pour out His blessings and if certain conditions are not met, God will punish or at the very least withhold His “best” from His children.
Some would even go so far as to say that “when you sin, you lose fellowship with God.” The Greek word for fellowship is koinónia which also means “to have in common.” What does a believer have in common with God? Jesus. Losing fellowship with God due to sin is the equivalent of being taken out of Jesus. The fallacy with this thinking is that when a Christian sins he is somehow made dirty and distant from God. This is not the case. The believer is just as clean and just as close to God after he commits an act of sin as he was before he committed an act of sin. The problem is not with God it is with man’s perception. If a believer loses fellowship with God due to sin, what must he do to restore fellowship? We have already seen that confessing sins will not do it. We have seen that being sincere and apologetic with God will not do it. God has told us what will do it. Hear and believe the truth of the finished work of Jesus. Hebrews 9:9 says that continual sacrifice, whether it be animals or prayer cannot give a person a clear conscience with God. Why? Because the person who continual tries to make things right with God by any human effort will continually fail in this futile attempt, never to succeed. Once a person trusts not in what they can do but in what Jesus DID, they can then have a clear conscience before God regarding sin. Why? Because they are now trusting in the perfect performance of Jesus on the cross and not failed human effort.
As a Christian, when you sin, pray to God and thank Him for forgiving you. Praise Him for loving you enough to save you, all the while knowing ahead of time the millions of sins that you would commit in your lifetime. If you are a Christian, do not ask Him to forgive you. He has already done that!