If in Christ sins aren’t charged to our account (Romans 4:6-8,15,5:13), then why are disciples to ask for forgiveness?
It was Christ in the model prayer who told us to seek God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:12), so it won’t do to say that this isn’t something we need to do. Yet at the same time, there is this glorious truth that our sins have been dealt with by Christ and in Him there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1ff). How are we to reconcile these things? We can start with the truth that we still sin. Romans 5:13 says, “sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.” Notice that though it isn’t counted against us, sin still continues to exist (something all disciples know to be experientially true).
Another truth we can add is that even though it’s sin and we do it, it doesn’t alter our relationship with God. So the believer sins, but it doesn’t affect his standing with God. If both these thing are so, then a third truth follows—we’re not being dealt with as we deserve to be (see Psalm 103:10)!
What I’m suggesting in all of this is that forgiveness needs to have a broader definition than simply someone sinned, it is counted against them, and then upon confession God removes their sin. While that obviously qualifies, I think forgiveness involves any situation where we sin and are not treated as we deserve. After all, if that’s not forgiveness, what is?
And this is what we see In Romans 4, where Paul is discussing righteousness by faith (v. 3). He speaks of having transgressions forgiven, sins covered, and sin not counted against us all as being in a blessed state of righteousness (v. 6,9). Whether God is remembering no more the sins of a person when they become a Christian or not charging them to a Christian’s account, it is all embraced in his discussion. He makes no distinction.
When a Christian asks for forgiveness then, they are acknowledging their sin and asking God to keep them in the state of grace they are in through Christ. In 1 John 1:9, John instructs disciples to confess their sins and God will forgive them. PrIor to that he has told them that if they “walk in the light,” the blood of Jesus purifies them of all sin (v. 7). Which is it? Are our sins cleansed (not charged to our account), as we follow God or are they forgiven only upon following a formula of confessing, repenting, and specifically asking for forgiveness for each sin? I think we are to understand John as saying that to walk in the path of God is to live in a state of grace where our sins are not charged to our account. To confess our sins is to honor (rather than abuse) this arrangement and as well as seek its continuance.