Does church service make you feel forgiven? We should feel forgiven, shouldn’t we? After all, in The Lord’s Prayer, we ask forgiveness from God. And Jesus died for our sins. So after a church service where we worship God, don’t we expect to feel forgiven?
I hope the results from this particular question are true. More than three-fourths of the people who identified as practicing Christians said they feel forgiven at least most of the time.
Even two-thirds of those who attend church at least once every six months said they feel forgiven at least most of the time. One thing to realize here is that the twice-a-year people are oftentimes the ones who only attend church on Easter and Christmas.
Does church service make you feel forgiven in two days out of 365?
To me, it’s cause for concern that the percentages are so close for the two groups. I know many people believe Baptism and saying the right prayer is all it takes to be saved. However, we must take note of two things regarding that belief.
First of all, that so-called sinner’s prayer doesn’t exist. It’s not in the Bible.
Secondly, Baptism is more of a beginning than an end goal. Baptism is a public statement of belief.
Put together, I believe those two things fall short of something Jesus told His followers very clearly.
22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31
Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
To me, going to church twice a year doesn’t line up with Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
And Love your neighbor as yourself is a lifelong endeavor. It’s not something that can be accomplished on two days out of a 365-day year.
So yes, I am concerned for someone who attends church twice a year and feels forgiven. Notice, I said “concerned”. I’m not God. He may very well do exactly that – forgive the person who attends church twice a year, year after year after year. But that just doesn’t appear to live up with the rest of what’s in the New Testament. For much more on that thought, I invite you to read Are we supposed to Believe God, Believe in God or Follow God?
Ultimately, feeling forgiven isn’t the same as being forgiven. And so, in a way that’s meant to be loving and caring, I want to present one more passage.
Lk 17:11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
Lk 17:14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
Lk 17:15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Lk 17:17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Ten men went to Jesus to be healed. All of them knew Jesus had the ability to heal them. And Jesus did just that – healed all ten. And yet, only one of the ten actually gave praise to God for the healing. Jesus asked about the other nine. And then Jesus told the one who gave praise to God – “your faith has made you well“. In other words, ten men were healed of leprosy. One was forgiven for his sins.
What if the situation with those who actually live for Jesus, as in Are we supposed to Believe God, Believe in God or Follow God, is similar? Some go to church pretty much every week. Others go to church twice a year. But the ones that will be forgiven are those who truly follow God in their lives. The ones who give praise to God by the way they live are the ones who will hear, “your faith has made you well“.
It would be terrible for someone to think they’re forgiven, feel forgiven, but have that not be the case. That’s why I include this out of love and care for those who might need to hear it.
Does church service make you feel forgiven in fifty-two days out of 365?
Hopefully you noticed my comment for the nine out of ten lepers that weren’t healed.
So yes, I am concerned for someone who attends church twice a year and feels forgiven. Notice, I said “concerned”. I’m not God. He may very well do exactly that – forgive the person who attends church twice a year, year after year after year. But that just doesn’t appear to live up with the rest of what’s in the New Testament.
It was directed at someone who attends church twice a year. However, it can fit equally well for someone who attends church pretty much every Sunday. Why? Because attending church services, by itself, doesn’t fit in with truly following Jesus either! Remember, I also raised the possibility, even likelihood, that the ones that will be forgiven are those who truly follow God in their lives.
Christians should recognize this as part of the transformation which takes place as we grow in our faith. As we grow in our Christian walk. Here’s an example of what Christian transformation is about:
Ro 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Ro 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
The question is then, as Christians, do we feel like that describes us? And I mean, does it really truly describe us? If not, well, some self-examination is in order. Some prayer. Maybe some mentoring from another trusted Christian. Something. Because once again, it would be terrible for someone to think they’re forgiven, feel forgiven, but have that not be the case. That’s why I include this out of love and care for those who might need to hear it.
What if church service does make you feel forgiven?
If going to church doesn’t make us feel forgiven, there is always the possibility of the scenarios above. Honestly though, I have to say that if we’re one of those who doesn’t really try to live a Christian life, and who only goes to church services, and we don’t feel forgiven, that may not be a bad thing. It may very well be God, through the Holy Spirit, sending us a message.
And the fact that we don’t feel forgiven should be enough to prompt us to find out why not. To urge us to learn more about the transformation that should take place in our life and our spirit. Those are good things. Better, I feel, than someone who isn’t being transformed, isn’t truly following Jesus, and yet still feels like they’re forgiven.
What about someone who is forgiven but feels unforgiven?
I’m surprised by the apparent numbers on this one. The lack of people who seem to actually be forgiven, but not feel forgiven. The way the numbers play out, there just doesn’t seem to be much of it. And yet, having been in that place myself, I feel like there should be, must be, more people like that.
Here’s the thing with that. Just as our lives are transformed as we grow in our faith, there’s a transformation that takes place in our relationship with God:
On the human side of this transaction, forgiveness is pictured as based on a person’s taking the initiative in asking for it. The person who eventually experiences forgiveness begins as a penitent-a person sorry for sin who asks God to forgive. Penitential psalms, like Psalms 32 and 51, picture the range of human feelings and attitudes that make up the penitent. To receive God’s forgiveness, one must ask for it (2 Chron 33:12–13). The psalmist declares that God is “good and forgiving” to all who call on him (Ps 86:5). The imagery of forgiveness as a process that the penitent undertakes is also evident in the path to forgiveness that Leviticus 6:1–7 outlines and that the OT system of sacrifices pictures in more general terms.
An important additional motif is the “before and after” nature of the experience of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a change of status from guilt to declared innocence (cf. Ex 34:7, with its image of God’s clearing the guilty; Ps 32:5; Jer 33:8). There is a psychological dimension to this “before and after” experience, with anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms preceding the act of being forgiven, and relief and joy following it. Psalm 32:1–2 sounds the keynote when it pronounces the forgiven person as “blessed.” The human response to God’s forgiveness is also love of God—a love that Jesus claimed was proportionate to the magnitude of the forgiveness that the penitent has received (Lk 7:36–50). 1Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D. G. (2000). In Dictionary of biblical imagery (electronic ed., p. 303). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Let’s say we ask forgiveness from God. He grants it. From God’s point of view, the sins exist no more. The price is paid, by Jesus’ death on the cross. The relationship is healed. As the author above puts it:
There is a psychological dimension to this “before and after” experience, with anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms preceding the act of being forgiven, and relief and joy following it.
If only it were that simple for us. We don’t immediately have that anxiety removed. It takes time. The restoration of the relationship between us and God, from our point of view, takes time. It can take a whole lot of time for us to even realize that healing happened. Being truly comfortable with the relationship is something we’ll likely never achieve in this lifetime.
But my point is, I expected to see more people in the midst of that relationship healing than what appears to be the case from the numbers. Here’s the chart for “Does church service make you feel forgiven?”
As you see, the number of practicing Christians that rarely feel forgiven is very low. Only 9%. The “Churched adults” is the group that attends church as infrequently as twice each year. Even that group is only at 7%.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I had feelings like how could I ever be forgiven, it took a long time to actually accept it. I suspect going from a Catholic church to a Protestant one didn’t help. All those “extras” that are part of being Catholic lead to pretty heavy guilt when one tries to return to the church. Being so “easily” accepted back wasn’t so easy to accept. Even though I knew about what happened with Peter (below) before Jesus was crucified.
The Last Supper – a reminder of love and forgiveness
I added some comments in the passage on The Last Supper relevant to our topic. Not the kind of thing you usually hear, since our focus is different. But I think it really helps us to understand just how significant it is in showing how important our relationship with God is to Him.
22:7-13 pp — Mt 26:17-19; Mk 14:12-16
22:17-20 pp — Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; 1Co 11:23-25
22:21-23 pp — Mt 26:21-24; Mk 14:18-21; Jn 13:21-30
22:25-27 pp — Mt 20:25-28; Mk 10:42-45
22:33, 34 pp — Mt 26:33-35; Mk 14:29-31; Jn 13:37, 38
Lk 22:7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
Lk 22:9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.
Lk 22:10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.”
Lk 22:13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
The introductory part of the passage shows some of the events that God made sure took place for this Last Supper to even take place. All was planned and in place. The disciples only had to follow Jesus’ instructions.
When we’re in sync with God’s plans for our lives, the way will be prepared for us as well.
Lk 22:14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
Think about what Jesus just said. He eagerly desired to eat this Passover with His disciples – pay attention to His words here – before I suffer. I’m not going to go into the details of the Old Testament Passover here. This would be even longer. It’s a topic of its own. But here’s a summary of what’s taking place in those verses:
The New Testament Gospels portray Jesus as instituting the Lord’s Supper at a Passover meal on the night before his trial and death on the cross: “On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed …” (Mark 14:12). Just as the two Passover meals in Exodus and Numbers mark the eve of a new chapter in God’s relationship to Israel, the Passover meal that Jesus celebrates with the disciples is the eve of God’s new act of salvation in and through Jesus’ death and crucifixion. In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist declares Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 35). 1 Peter 1:18–19 speaks of “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.” 2Olson, D. T. (1996). Numbers (p. 52). Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
What we see then is Jesus, knowing full well that He’s going to suffer and die, can’t wait to celebrate Passover with His disciples. There are two reasons that I want to bring up.
- The celebration gives praise to the Father for delivering His people from slavery under Pharaoh.
For some (many?) we are sued to hearing of Jesus as the second Passover lamb. The discussion above doesn’t change that. The author is writing about the original Passover event in Exodus as the first one. The second Passover is the first celebration of that event. So what we read above is actually the annual Passover celebration, but this time with the added significance of Jesus about to become the second Passover “lamb”. I made a note to write about this soon. You can subscribe using the button above to get notifications of future publications.
- Again, notice that Jesus said He eagerly desired to eat this Passover with His disciples. What exactly was He eager for?
Was Jesus eager to suffer and die? Not likely. Remember what took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and His final moments on the cross. That’s not something to look forward to.
Rather, Jesus was eager to do what needed to be done so that we could be reconciled with God. So we could be saved from the penalty of the second death that had to be paid for our sins. It’s that reconciliation Jesus was eager for. It’s giving us the opportunity to have eternal life with Him that Jesus was eager for.
Why then should be we think we’re not forgiven? There’s nothing we can do, short of blaspheming/quenching the Holy Spirit for which we won’t be forgiven. With apologies to the Catholic Church, there’s nothing else we need to add to Jesus’ death on the cross to pay some additional price.
That price is detailed below. For us to think there’s anything else needed might very well be the height of arrogance. How can we possibly add anything to what Jesus already did?
Lk 22:17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
The cup, of course, has red wine in it. The wine that represents Jesus’ blood, which is about to be shed during His torture and then death on the cross. The acts performed by God Himself, in the person of Jesus, that will pay the price for all our sins.
Lk 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
The bread represents Jesus’ body. Again, this represents payment for all our sins. Jesus pays the price by way of His imminent torture and death on the cross.
The command to “do this in remembrance of me” is where we get Communion. The wafer, cracker, or whatever your church uses to represent the unleavened bread from the original Passover, this Passover celebration, and ultimately Jesus’ body, put to death for our sins.
Lk 22:20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
Now they drink the wine from the cup passed out earlier. Again, the wine represents Jesus’ blood. But it also represents the New Covenant that God is creating between Himself and those of us who choose to accept Him as our Lord and Savior, accept His death on the cross as payment for our sins, and follow His teachings as our way of life.
Conclusion – Does church service make you feel forgiven?
Let’s look at what we have now. The question is, does going to church service make you feel forgiven? I leave it to you to answer and decide just how much of a “church-goer” and especially a follower of Jesus you truly are.
In any case, remember that Jesus’ death on the cross covered every sin, past, present, and future for those who believe in Him – in the full sense of the word believe. Keep in mind what I wrote above about the full sense of the word believe.
The debt for our sins is paid in full. No postage due. No interest. No final balloon payment. Paid. In. Full.
So, if we really are true followers of Jesus, and going to church service doesn’t make us feel forgiven, I believe we should ask ourselves, “Why not?” It seems that we should feel forgiven.
I know, we don’t always feel that way. Finding out why not feels important. Maybe we don’t truly believe God could forgive us? But He will and He does. Maybe we feel like we don’t deserve to be forgiven? The truth is, we don’t. But it’s also true that God does forgive us anyway, even though we don’t deserve it.
If we are true followers of Jesus, we are forgiven. If we go to church service and regularly take part in Communion, we have those reminders of what Jesus did for us. The reminders that yes, Jesus loves us enough to suffer and die for us. The proof that The debt is paid in full.
So if we are indeed true believers, and we don’t feel forgiven, we’re missing something. And whatever it is that prevents us from feeling forgiven also prevents us from feeling loved by God. And it prevents us from living a fruitful life for the kingdom of God. It takes away the feelings of God’s presence in our lives. As Jesus put it, things are stolen from us.
Jn 10:1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
Jn 10:7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Jn 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
Jn 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
The true believer knows and listens to Jesus’ voice. Furthermore, obeys Jesus. Because of that, we should also feel forgiven. Again, as I said, it won’t always happen. We’re human. We have ups and downs. But we should feel forgiven more often than not. If not, maybe we need to ask the Holy Spirit for comfort, guidance, strength – whatever is missing in our lives that’s preventing us from having that life to the full Jesus promised us.
- 1Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D. G. (2000). In Dictionary of biblical imagery (electronic ed., p. 303). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- 2Olson, D. T. (1996). Numbers (p. 52). Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.