I often get asked, “If we are already forgiven, why must we still pray daily for forgiveness (cf., Matt. 6:12)?” I recently asked Dr. R. Scott Clark this question and here is his response:
There are at least three immediate responses to the idea that we ought not ask for forgiveness:
1) I guess the historic Christian church didn’t get the mÎemo. One would think that 2000 years of Christian (not to mention Old Testament) practice would be of some use to American evangelicals, but I guess not in this case.
2) To not ask forgiveness because we’re already fully justified by grace alone through faith alone is rationalism and antinomianism. One might just as well say, “We sin that grace might abound.” Jesus taught us to ask for forgiveness AND he also said that those who come to him are forgiven. We have a duty to affirm both things at the same time. We have a duty not to separate what he has joined together. I’m not aware of any place in Scripture where our Lord’s command has been over turned or annulled. To deduce that the Lord’s Prayer is no longer to be prayed would involve us in the weirdest sort of dispensationalism. What, are we to think that the Lord’s Prayer was in effect only from it’s institution to the cross? That’s bizarre. All the elements of the Paternoster (“Our Father”) exist in the Hebrew Scriptures. To be consistent with this approach we should never sing Ps 32 or Ps 51. What about 1 John 1:8-10? Even if “sin” there refers only to denying Jesus’ humanity it’s still sin. In that case one must ask forgiveness, but John is speaking to Christ-confessing congregation about sins they must confess and for which they must receive forgiveness. What about James 5:16 where we are instructed to confess our sins to one another? If we can’t pray “forgive us our sins” then we cannot pray “give us our daily bread.” On this hermeneutic we stand to lose a good bit of Holy Scripture!
3) The theological basis for continuing to pray for forgiveness is that we relate to God in more than one way at any given time. Our legal standing before God means that, relative to justification and judgment, God sees only the imputed righteousness of Christ. That fact, however, doesn’t mean that, in his providence, God does not see our sins. God remains omniscient. It is not as if God doesn’t want us to pray! Yet he knew from eternity what we would ask before we do. Should we pray at all? Yes! Scripture commands us to pray without ceasing. Thus, confessing our sins is a way of recognizing before God that we continue to struggle with sin and the old nature.
Thus we confess in the Heidelberg Catechism:
116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us; and because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who earnestly and without ceasing beg them of Him, and render thanks unto Him for them.