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Question and Answer

Can my past really be forgiven?

Question:

In the past, I have lived a gay lifestyle, including drinking, and smoking and taking prescription drugs. For a year now, I have given up all of these things, and am attempting to live a more Christian lifestyle. I am reading my Bible daily, praying and asking for God's forgiveness. It is very clear in the Bible that homosexuality and many other sins are punishable by death. Therefore are we forgiven if we repent and turn our back on this lifestyle? Or once we have lived this way are we beyond forgiveness? Any verses of Scripture would be appreciated. I know that Christ died for our sins, and I have asked God into my heart. Could you give me some further direction on what I should be doing?

Answer:

Your question is a most important one for you and, no doubt, for many others.

The Scriptures are clear about sin. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). All sin, every sin, is breaking God's law and therefore punishable by God. Not just some sins, but all sins are sins against God, the holy Creator, lawgiver and judge of man, who has declared that all sin is worthy of his wrath.

From the beginning, man's first sin, the sin of Adam in eating the forbidden fruit was punishable by death. God said to the man, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat from it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17). The Scriptures teach that as a consequence of Adam's original sin, death has come upon all mankind. Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned." This squares with the words in Romans 3:23 which tells us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23); thus, all men (all mankind) are worthy of death, and indeed all die.

But Romans 6:23 does not end there. It goes on to say, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

This free gift is offered to all believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31). The free gift of eternal life comes through Jesus Christ alone. The apostle Paul writes, "But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one [Adam] the many died, much more did the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many" (Rom. 5:15).

Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and died an awful death in the place of sinners as a substitute for sinful men and women and children. He died that we might live. Indeed, he was cursed that we might be blessed. I trust you know the familiar verse, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This is the good news. Jesus, the very Son of God, the eternal Son of God, became man. He who was and is eternally God took on human nature in time and space. As a man, Jesus stood in the place of sinners and satisfied God's divine justice for them so that they might be spared that justice. Thus, as many as believe on him will be saved.

The merits of his perfect life and his sacrificial death are counted toward all those who trust in him for salvation. Their sins were counted against him, and conversely his righteousness is counted toward those who trust in him. This is the great teaching of Scripture, which we call "justification by faith." Sinners are justified before God, accepted as righteous, and forgiven, because of what Christ has done for them. He has paid the price for their sin. That gift is received by faith alone; we could never earn it or deserve it. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

You asked, "Therefore are we forgiven if we repent and turn our back on this lifestyle? Or once we have lived this way are we beyond forgiveness?" Our answer is that we are forgiven, not because we repent, but we repent as a response to our having been forgiven. What do I mean?

Our repenting, no matter how complete, will never be perfect in this life, no matter how long or how hard we try. In addition, our repenting does not do away with all our past sins. In other words, our repenting could never make us righteous before God; we all are sinners. The only remedy is the one that God gave (John 3:16): He gave his Son as our substitute to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. Again, he lived a perfect life and then offered himself as the perfect substitute to be cursed and to die on the cross, to accept the curse and death we deserved. Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree' " [a quote from the Old Testament law, cf. Deut. 21:23]. Thus, Jesus took away our curse; our death has lost its sting.

Thus, it is only through faith in Christ that we are counted righteous and declared forgiven by God, justified by God himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who died once for all for his people. His name is Jesus, because "he saves his people from their sins"—that is what his very name means (Matt. 1:21).

In keeping with that salvation, it is God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who enable us now to repent and to live the life he wants us to live. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17).

If you are trusting not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone, you are indeed a new creation. Once we all were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), and we walked according to the course of this sinful world (Eph. 2:2). But God who is rich in mercy makes us alive by joining us to Christ (Eph. 2:5). We are joined to Jesus, who is raised with resurrection power from the dead. Being joined to him by faith, we too have been raised from death to life, from spiritual death to spiritual life. God is working in our hearts to repent and believe on Christ. "Apart from Christ, we can do nothing" (John 15:5); we cannot even repent and believe apart from Christ. But in Christ, now being joined together with Christ by faith, we "can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us]" (Phil. 4:13).

You also asked, "Could you give me some further direction on what I should be doing?"

The Christian life is a life of repenting and believing in Christ, believing and repenting. These are not one-time things. We are to keep on believing and keep on repenting. Knowing that we need the power of God through the Holy Spirit we are to keep on praying for wisdom and strength to know and to do God's will. Ask the Lord to help you understand his word. But know, too, that you are not alone. The Lord promises not to forsake his people (Heb. 13:5-6); he will be with you. Further, as Christians joined to Christ, we are also to be joined to Christ's body, which is the church. Christ gives gifts to men for the building up of the body (Eph. 4:11-12). We have the words of the apostles and prophets in the Scriptures. We have pastors and teachers and evangelists in the church to help us in our understanding of the word and will of God. The body of Christ has many members, each with his or her own gift for the good of the body, and we are to help and encourage one another. That includes pastors and elders who are to lead and govern in the churches. Therefore, Hebrews 13:17 says, "Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account."

This means you need to make sure that you find a good church that faithfully believes and teaches the Scriptures to guide and help you in your Christian life. We would be happy to help you find a church if you do not already have one. (Here is our Directory.) May God be with as you make progress in your Christian life.


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