(Picture courtesy of Andrew Errington)
I believe that non-Christians (please excuse the term) can receive forgiveness from God for sins and wrongdoings just by simply asking, if they want forgiveness because they’re sorry for those sins.
If you aren’t a Christian you may think that God only forgives people who lead a religious life, if they try hard enough. Consequently, you might think that God only forgives Christians, as they lead a religious life. This might not make sense to you – surely God can accept you for who you are?
Well, you’re right about that — he does. Christianity is not about leading a religious life in order to get God to forgive us for things we’ve done wrong. God does accept you for who you are, but sins are not necessarily who you are, and sins are sins — they do need to be forgiven. We know this in our own relationships with our parents.
Luke 24: 46, 47 says this (Jesus speaking):
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations…“
The Christian Gospel is good news (“Gospel” means good news in ancient Greek). God forgives all who are sorry and ask for forgiveness.
But then it goes further than that. If you put all of your trust (faith) in Jesus you are given eternal life, effectively ‘saved’.
This is probably more for the theologians now, but anyway it’s worth a mention. I think God always forgives those who repent. That’s the first step. The next step is to put complete trust in Jesus for your ‘salvation’ — that you will have eternal life.
Non-Christians can ask God for forgiveness because of Jesus, and get it. But they only enter into eternal life when they believe in faith, which is when they become Christians.
Creating this difference between those that ask for forgiveness and those that believe is perhaps not necessary, and the Bible doesn’t always provide a clear distinction. Yet, at the same time, it can help us to simplify our message of good news.
Forgiveness is for non-Christians. We might complicate the message by adding “believe Jesus is Lord” to it at first, without saying to guys, “Look, you can be forgiven today for your past sins. Great! But what will you do about the future? Believe in Jesus as your saviour and the future is covered, you can enter eternal life and receive the rewards of God.”
John the Baptist preached a message of repentance, and had a baptism of repentance. Jesus’ message is more than that, and his baptism is one that enters us into eternal life. John the Baptist was called to prepare the way. Repentance and forgiveness perhaps comes first, then people must decide if they want to go further — if they want to accept Jesus as saviour and enter eternal life.
I believe in once saved always saved, but I also believe that there could be a distinction with those who ‘believe’ and those who just want forgiveness. Perhaps this is why the early church seemed to have only allowed those who were baptised in the name of Jesus into their worship services, and only those were allowed to take part in the Eucharist (communion). The non-baptised weren’t allowed in to all these services, but were allowed in prayer services or other types.
Baptism is a sign of not just repentance but entering into the life of Jesus. That’s what Romans 6 indicates. (See also 1 Peter 3:21.) Effectively, it’s a sign of our acceptance of Jesus as saviour, Lord, and our decision to become a disciple, to follow The Way, amidst some other things.
This is just something I’m developing and thinking about at the moment.