Are All of Our Sins – Past, Present, and Future – Forgiven the Moment We Trust in Jesus?
I hate to burst anyone’s bubble right from the jump, but the Bible doesn’t specifically address the issue of future sins in any particular passage. It offers an astounding amount of instruction (much of which is quite nuanced) as to how one goes about living the Christian life after they’ve put their trust in Jesus. Even though the question is not explicitly addressed in Scripture, we can still answer it using the Bible as our guide. Let’s dive in.
Salvation the Way the Disciples Understood It
To answer this question faithfully, we need to start by clarifying one thing about the biblical concept of salvation. One of the most common misconceptions in Christianity is that salvation is only a past-tense occurrence, something that happens in a single moment that then forever remains in the past. This was not the view of the New Testament writers, who viewed salvation as a process that is commenced at faith/baptism and carried on throughout the life of a Christian. In other words, we are saved, we are being saved, and we are waiting to be saved completely one day in the future (when we meet the Lord face-to-face). Another way of describing this process is to say that we have been justified (when we put our faith in Jesus), we are being sanctified (as we continue following Him and growing in holiness), and we will be glorified one day in the future (when we are entirely set-free from sin, and it no longer remains a possibility).
Which one of these three things is needed for a person to get into Heaven? Does one need to be justified, sanctified, or glorified? The answer is all three!
The New Testament talks about the Christian life as a journey, as a road that we travel. This is why the apostles, the early church, and Jesus himself referred to it using phrases like “the way of salvation” and “the narrow road.” Being saved was never only a destination that is arrived upon (at least, not on this side of Heaven), but rather a road that is traveled.
Let me see if I can illustrate this point using a few particular passages from the New Testament.
1 John 3:2-3 “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
Romans 13:11 “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”
So, if it’s alright with you, I’d like to re-phrase the question. Since the Bible doesn’t specifically address the question, “are all future sins forgiven the moment we trust in Jesus,” I’d like to phrase it this way: “how can we be sure that our sins are forgiven and are being forgiven continually? How can we have assurance that the blood of Jesus is continually cleansing us?” Now that, my friends, is a question that the Bible answers precisely.
The Cleansing Power of Jesus’ Blood
1 John 1:6-9 “6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John chapter one offers us a significant bit of insight into how a follower of Jesus goes on being cleansed from sin and its power. First, I’d like to point out that the verb translated “cleanses” in verse seven is the Greek verb katharizo (καθαρίζω), which is used here in the present-active tense. This means simply that the word is describing continuous action. Not something done only in the past, but rather, something that began in the past and is still ongoing, something that Jesus’ blood keeps on doing.  Verse eight makes it clear that we all still sin. Even Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit and living fully for the glory of God still live in compromised flesh and thus, still struggle with the allure and temptations of sin. Anyone who says otherwise is simply deceiving themselves (v.8).
The next verse is the one that usually gets Protestants up in arms and asking all sorts of gratuitous questions. “So, to be forgiven from sin after becoming a Christian, I have to confess my sins? What if I forget to? What about sins I’m not aware of? What about sins I’ve forgotten about?”
While all of these questions have simple answers, the truth is that John is NOT telling us that if we fail to confess a particular sin, we revert to a state of unforgiveness. The word “confess” in verse nine is the Greek word homologeo (ὁμολογεῶ), and it means simply to acknowledge, proclaim, or agree with. John is telling us that since all Christians still struggle with sin, no one should be acting like or saying that they’ve fully overcome it. No Christian should fail to acknowledge that we all still need a savior, still need forgiveness, and still need the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood in order to continue down the narrow road that we’re traveling.
Does that sound crazy? Does it sound like works-based righteousness? Does it contradict the teachings of Paul? It absolutely does not. In fact, quite the contrary. This is great news! No matter how bad we mess up, we believers have an assurance that we can be forgiven and cleansed from all sin and unrighteousness, just like when we first believed. I don’t know about you, but I mess up all the time, and when I realize it, the first thing I usually do is set-out to get right with God:
“I’m sorry, Lord, I messed up, and I need to be forgiven. I acknowledge that I’ve sinned, and I thank you that Jesus’ blood continues to cleanse me from all sin.”
That’s it! As we are made aware of areas in our life that still cause us to stumble, we take them straight to God and receive His forgiveness and cleansing. This ensures that we continue walking in the light while receiving continual, never-ending cleansing by the blood of Jesus.
Does Sinning Mean That I’m Walking In Darkness?
What does John mean when he describes a person who is “walking in darkness” (v.6)? Clearly, a believer’s ongoing struggle with sin is not enough to indicate that one is walking in darkness because, as has already been mentioned, we all still struggle with sin. In fact, the contrary might be true (if you say you have no sin problem, you may be in darkness). However, John still mentions that some say they have fellowship with God and simultaneously walk in darkness. What do we make of this? One particular passage comes to mind that specifically talks about a person who has received a knowledge of the truth (past tense) yet no longer has their sins forgiven. According to Hebrews 10:26-27, this is someone who has decided to willfully, deliberately, continually embraces sin as a lifestyle while rejecting the offer of forgiveness:
Hebrews 10:26-27 “Because if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
I want to stress that I do not believe this passage refers to someone who is genuinely struggling to overcome sin. It’s not about a Christian who has an addiction they’re trying to overcome or who is sincerely at odds with themselves over sins they hate but are battling to conquer. No, it’s talking about someone who deliberately, willfully goes on sinning after having learned the truth. This describes someone who has turned away from God, turned off the narrow road, and decided that they’d rather deliberately live a life of sin because it’s just not worth it to follow Jesus (that said, I strongly suggest you read the entire chapter on your own, in context). The Bible gives us several warnings like this about the necessity of not having our hearts hardened by sin. It tells us that there is a line all believers should not cross. But it never tells us precisely where the line marks the point of no return. That’s why believers must continue to follow the pattern laid out 1 John 1 (and other places) to acknowledge that we need forgiveness and cleansing by Jesus’ blood. We need to continue to walk in the light.
Answering the Question Once and For All: Are Future Sins Forgiven?
With all this in view, what is the answer to the question? How should we respond when asked: “Are all my future sins forgiven the moment I trust in Jesus?” I believe the answer is yes and no. Yes, but with a particular caveat: are you continuing to follow Him? Are you continuing to make Him your Lord and growing in your love for Him? Are you staying on the narrow road? As long as you continue receiving His forgiveness, it will continue to be offered to you. If you have decided that He’s just not worth it, you are likely putting yourself in harm’s way. If you are a Christian who has neglected Him, I invite you to get right with Him now. Ask Him to forgive and cleanse you and show you what it is to live the life of faith powered by grace. The most important thing to remember is that salvation is not something that happens only in a moment. It’s a road that we travel throughout our journey to Heaven. The best is yet to come. But to receive it, we must remember that salvation and discipleship are not two separate categories in the life of a believer; they are one and the same.
 That’s why, in my opinion, a helpful translation would be: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son continually cleanses us from all sin.”  I know we re-phrased the question, but that one has already been answered!