In talking about forgiveness of sins, a popular way of referring to a believer is that their past, present, and future sins are all forgiven at the time of their conversion. For example “Before the judgment throne of God, the sins of believers are forgiven even before they are committed and even if they are never confessed…”1This belief manifests itself in a variety of views. The logical conclusion, however, is the same across the spectrum. If all future sins have already been forgiven, then our future sins have no effect on our salvation.
A verse that comes up often in this context is Hebrews 10:10-12:
We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…
Notice, the primary contrast is that the priests used to offer sacrifices over and over for sin. Jesus’ death on the cross is instead, a “single sacrifice” and His sacrifice can take away sins where the former sacrifices could not. Notice also the author says that we have been sanctified through Jesus’ sacrifice. Clearly Jesus does not have to repeatedly come back and die to sanctify subsequent generations, but there’s nothing here that explicitly says that future sins are already forgiven. If we continue on in the same context and move down to verses 26-29 we find these words:
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
Herein a problem is presented with saying our future sins are already forgiven. To start, the author isn’t talking about unbelievers. This is the same “we” that he’s already said have been sanctified up in verse 10. The author says if believers go on sinning deliberately, there is no more sacrifice for sins (v. 26). The author isn’t saying there never was a sacrifice for sins, he’s saying there no longer is a sacrifice for sins. The author says that instead of having a sacrifice for sins, individuals in this category are guaranteed “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire…” (v. 27). After all, he says, those who rejected the Law in the Old Covenant received death, so those who have been sanctified through Christ’s blood should expect even worse punishment should they go on “sinning deliberately” (v. 28-29). The author makes it clear that saved believers who have been sanctified from their past and present sins but choose to go on “sinning deliberately” will be cut off from Jesus’ sacrifice and guaranteed judgment, fire, and a punishment worse than death.
Consider the ridiculous conclusion that comes from this section if Jesus’ sacrifice guarantees that future sins are forgiven at conversion. If this is true, and yet there is still a possibility of no longer having a sacrifice for sins, it must be an issue with the sacrifice. Like an insurance policy, there is a limit to coverage. Exceed the given amount and you are no longer covered. Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient so long as you don’t exceed the policy’s limit. In essence, the author of Hebrews would be communicating that Jesus’ sacrifice is insufficient in some cases. All of this is ludicrous. Clearly, the author of Hebrews is not communicating a lack of sufficiency in Jesus’ sacrifice. But equally so, the author is not communicating that Jesus’ sacrifice has already counted toward future sin. Hebrews 10:26-29 is not talking about future sins being “unforgiven” but instead losing the ability to have those sins forgiven in the first place. The author of Hebrews is saying there’s a point at which someone can exhibit the kind of rebellion and unrepentance that Jesus finally says, “You are trampling me underfoot, and profaning the blood that I sanctified you with. You are cut off from the sacrifice.” The issue is not Jesus’ sacrifice running out, but rather being cut off from accessing it.
Tying the earlier example in, if the parent with the college fund learns their child is using the fund to finance large parties, international vacations, and expensive sports cars, there is a good chance they will cut their child’s access to the fund. Again, the issue is access, not sufficiency. Likewise, Jesus’ sacrifice has provided an inexhaustible source of blood to cover sins for all time. The issue is continued access to the source. It is simply untenable to say that someone’s future sins are already forgiven.
This conclusion is hardly surprising. Moving beyond Hebrews, John makes future forgiveness and cleansing contingent on our confession of sin when he says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1Jo 1:9). In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells us we are to ask the Father to “forgive us our sins” (Luk 11:4). In yet another example, Peter tells Simon to “Repent…and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.” (Act 8:22; emphasis mine). The point not to miss, Christ’s sacrifice has made a way for past, present, and future sins to be forgiven, but future sins are not already forgiven. Our continued faithfulness, confession, and repentance are what determine if we have access to this inexhaustible resource.