DEAR DR. GRAHAM: What sins does God forgive when we ask Him to, and what sins does He expect us to pay for (either in this life or after we die)? This bothers me, because I know I've been far from perfect.
DEAR P.G.: If we had to pay the penalty for our own sins — or even for just some of them — we'd never have any hope of heaven. Our sins are too great, and we only deserve God's judgment.
But listen: We don't have to pay the penalty for our sins — or even for some of them! The reason is this: When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all our sins were placed on Him, and He took the penalty for all our sins. He didn't die for just some of our sins — He died for all of them! Think of it: Every sin you ever committed, or ever will commit, was transferred to Him, and He took upon Himself the judgment you deserve. The Bible says, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Does this mean our sins are automatically forgiven, and we don't have to repent of them or seek to follow Christ? No, not at all. Salvation is a free gift — free, because Jesus Christ has already paid for it. But like any other gift, it only becomes ours if we accept it and receive it as our own.