My question spawns from an explanation of 1 John 1:9 provided by the very popular protestant resource GotQuesitons.org.

It seems to me that the answer given has holes in it, which I would like, filled. I assume, I hope not incorrectly, that the article is based on a “once saved, always saved” (OSAS) position and the answer to my question should be from those who adhere to that position.

The web site gives the fallowing definitions in this article:

“Positional” forgiveness, or judicial forgiveness, is that which is obtained by every believer in Christ.

This positional forgiveness is achieved when “Jesus has been accepted as your personal Lord and savior” Correct me if I am wrong and I will adjust my understanding.

“relational,” or “familial,” forgiveness—like that of a father and a son. For example, if a son does something wrong to his father—falling short of his expectations or rules—the son has hindered his fellowship with his father. He remains the son of his father, but the relationship suffers. Their fellowship will be hindered until the son admits to his father that he has done wrong. It works the same way with God; our fellowship with Him is hindered until we confess our sin. When we confess our sin to God, the fellowship is restored. This is relational forgiveness.

Relational Forgiveness, seems to:

  1. Have no consequences towards salvation which is already achieved by personal forgiveness.

  2. Fellowship seems to be a empty of any meaning regarding salvation.

The possibility of entering into fellowship and out of it seems shadowy without consequence and meaningless.

When reading these explanations, they seem on the surface to address the issue but when you look deeper, for a scholarly biblical understanding, that being scripture citations explaining the position, little explanation is provided.

What is the Biblical basis for the two concepts of forgiveness? Specifically the understanding that being separated from fellowship with God, does not in any way interfere with a person's final dispensation.

  • I'm not certain that OSAS is a sufficiently narrow scope to answer this question. I can imagine multiple answers from within that framework.
    – Flimzy
    Dec 31, 2015 at 14:25
  • @ Flimzy Thank you for your edit and comments. I would appreciate any suggestions but it is possible to have more than one answer to a question. I will edit "any clear scripture" to " any clear sources"
    – Marc
    Dec 31, 2015 at 14:35
  • 1
    @Flimzy i think limiting it to Protestants who share a OSAS belief makes the question focused to one Group of Christians. Perhaps reasons amoung those many denominations vary, but all answers would be relevant.
    – Marc
    Dec 31, 2015 at 14:38
  • If it's possible to have more than one answer to a question, it's not a good question for SE.
    – Flimzy
    Dec 31, 2015 at 14:53
  • 1
    I would suggest asking simply, "What is the Biblical basis for the two concepts of forgiveness?" If you want to add "From an OSAS perspective" that would be fine. But then you avoid the ineitable clash of opinions between those who see it is Biblical, and those who don't.
    – Flimzy
    Dec 31, 2015 at 14:55

3 Answers 3


Here is what Jesus said regarding fellowship:

Luke 15:11-32 King James Version (KJV) 11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:

12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of >goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his >journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he >began to be in want.

15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him >into his fields to feed swine.

16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did >eat: and no man gave unto him.

17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's >have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have >sinned against heaven, and before thee,

19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired >servants.

20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, >his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and >kissed him.

21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy >sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.

22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on >him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And >they began to be merry.

25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the >house, he heard musick and dancing.

26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.

27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the >fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.

28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and >intreated him.

29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, >neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me >a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:

30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with >harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is >thine.

32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was >dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

Notice that positionally, both sons are always in good standing. The Father (God) never revokes what He has granted to both sons.

But the problem comes as each of them mistrusts the Father (God). Mistrust means to not believe. Each of them did not believe that God is good. And when they mistrust their Father (God), they began to find others to be the substitute god. That substitute god is usually self.

The younger son began to believe that in his own strength that he is going to make it somewhere far from His Father.

The older son began to believe that His Father is not good enough to throw a party for him. So he work hard (his god) but cannot enjoy the fellowship with His Father (God) who is physically very near.

Both fellowship could be restored and joy in the Holy Spirit is guaranteed as both of the sons began to "listen" to His Father (God) calling each one of them to draw near to Himself and begin again to trust Him as the "good" Father (God).


Is there clear scripture explaining that there are two types of forgiveness

Salvation forgiveness seems to be a one time event;

Hebrews 10:17-18 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.

Relational forgiveness seems to be continual;

Luke 17:3-4 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

  • 2
    I think luke is about forgiving your brother, not the same issue. I thank you for your answer but am looking for something more concrete reconciling biblically the presumptions of 2 types of forgiveness and the consequences of falling out of especially Relational forgiveness, as OSAS would say you could never fall out of Positional forgiveness. Perhaps I don't see the conection to your asnwer and you could explain more clearly.
    – Marc
    Dec 30, 2015 at 21:05
  • The concept of relational forgiveness with God can be also found in repentance and restoration. Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
    – timf
    Dec 31, 2015 at 14:41
  • I admit that is a better scripture than Luke, more fitting, you should edit. But consider the Galations 6:6-10 before doing so, as it changes your suggested context. I understand the way you read scripture is different then my own so I have not given you a down vote hoping for an edit. Perhaps that scripture is more fitting for the answer?
    – Marc
    Dec 31, 2015 at 14:49

I can think of no better Bible passage which teaches the concept of two types of forgiveness than one which includes the words of the Lord Jesus himself, who is the provider of forgiveness to all by virtue of his redemptive blood which was shed at Calvary.

From the NASB Updated Bible:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter, He said to him, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter." Peter *said to Him, "Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head." Jesus *said to him, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean but not all of you [i.e., Judas Iscariot] (John 13:3-10, with italics and asterisks provided by the NASB).

We're all familiar, I suppose, with some of the cultural factors at work in this passage. In Jesus' day, the servant in a household having many servants is charged with washing the feet of visitors to the master's house. He has the lowest, most menial job a servant can have (go here for some basic information, and follow the links provided there).

[Interestingly (but incidentally) another footwashing incident took place in the home of Simon the Pharisee, as recorded in Luke 7:36-50, and of the three observations Jesus made (in vv.44-46), the first one was this:

I entered your house; you gave Me no water for my feet (v.44),

which makes the reader wonder why Jesus did not say, "You asked no servant to wash my feet." Perhaps Simon simply forgot to have this service performed for Jesus, or perhaps Simon had no servants, or the servant in charge of footwashing was ill or out of the house. Whatever the case might be, footwashing was common and expected in Jesus' day.]

Now to the heart of the first passage. We could easily say, "Oh that impetuous Peter. He's always putting his mouth in gear before his brain." That would be true, for the most part. Peter did have a way of making promises he could not (or would not) keep (see Mark 14:29-31; note, too, that all the disciples were saying the same thing Peter said, so Peter was evidently not alone in his exclamation).

Nevertheless, Peter's exclamation in John 13 became the basis for Jesus distinguishing between two types of cleansing, both of which I (and many others) take to be synonymous with forgiveness, for to be "cleansed from all unrighteousness" is to be forgiven by God (see 1 John 1:9). Moreover, the existential reality of God's forgiveness for any repentant sinner is to know that God will never again bring up the confessed- and repented-of sin to rub in our faces. When God forgives, He forgets (an anthropomorphism which means simply that God's forgiveness has no strings attached--but more on that later. See Isaiah 43:25).

Our Standing Versus Our State

The first cleansing is the cleansing of the entire body, which Jesus referred to as being "bathed" (13:10). This cleansing is symbolic of the cleansing of conversion, or the new birth. Once we are born again, our standing in Christ is assured. Paul calls this cleansing

"the washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5).

No one can see the kingdom of God, Jesus warned Nicodemus (John 3:3), without that regeneration, or new birth. Put differently, Jesus said,

Truly, truly I say to you [, Nicodemus], unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).

Both in John 3 and John 13 Jesus was quite clear, I believe, that a "positional" forgiveness, such that a person is fit for heaven, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (particularly according the OSAS believers!). God's number one criterion regarding a person's fitness for heaven, so to speak, is for that person to be declared innocent by God. This declaration is often referred to in Scripture as justification, or being justified (Romans 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8, for example).

In other words, when the Judge of all the earth declares someone righteous, that person becomes fit for heaven indeed. The analogy of the judge and the guilty criminal breaks down, of course, at least in a secular setting, since an earthly judge's pronouncement of innocence can be overturned. That, however, is the nature of virtually every analogy.

The second kind of cleansing is the partial cleansing of just the feet. This cleansing speaks of relational forgiveness, since throughout our various journeys in life, our feet do get dirty!

At the risk of being impolitic, I offer this analogy. Suppose you just emerged from your daily bath or shower. You dry yourself off, wrap a towel around your waist, and step onto the porch of your house, just to soak in the sun briefly, prior to getting fully dressed.

Unbeknownst to you, your pet dog just had an "accident" on your porch, and the moment your foot touches the porch, you feel something warm and squishy between your toes. (Need I say more?!). What will you do next (apart from uttering a few choice epithets!)? Will you jump into the bathtub again and take another bath? Not likely. You would, however, take care to wash the offending foot very thoroughly.

The application of this analogy is clear. A person who is justified in the eyes of God and who sins again after being declared righteous will never hear his Judge say, "I take back your justification. No soup [--I mean--] no salvation for you!"

God the Judge will clearly be disappointed. Moreover, we can certainly grieve, lie to, and put the Holy Spirit to the test by sinning (see Acts 5:3 and 9; Ephesians 4:30). Fellowship (not justification) with God (not justification by God) can be restored through frequent confession, since no child of God, as the apostle John points out, can say in truth, "I am without sin" (1 John 1:5-10, especially v.8).

Peter and all who embrace Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, have taken a bath in the cleansing blood of Christ and are clean every whit. That is positional forgiveness, or the forgiveness which gives us our standing in Christ. All believers in Jesus Christ who sin after conversion (and we all do--and will) need to confess to God (which is simply to agree with God) that they have sinned, preferably as soon as it happens. Again, that sin does not affect their standing in Christ, but it certainly affects our spiritual state at the time it occurs. The effect is broken fellowship with Christ.

The good news, however, is that With confession comes the cleansing from all unrighteousness of which John speaks in his first letter (1:9).

That experiential, existential, relational forgiveness harkens back, of course, to the positional and judicial forgiveness which Jesus proffers to all who call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. That is why John says that God

". . . is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us . . .."

The faithful and just character of God demands relational forgiveness because that forgiveness was accomplished once and for all at Calvary. For God to refuse to forgive any confessed sin is clearly impossible. He will always, for all eternity, look back (so to speak) to what his Son accomplished on the cross, and then forgive us and cleanse us, for Jesus' sake. Again, he is faithful, and he keeps his promises forever.

In conclusion, my godly grandfather was more than happy to share his conversion story with anyone, any time. As a child growing up in England, he was reared by Christian parents and was taken to church regularly. At a certain age, however, which was probably when he was quite young and still living at home, he claimed Psalm 51:7 for his own. It reads,

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow (NASB Updated).

Or in the KJV, which my grandfather read exclusively,

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

God hears the prayer of the penitent, and he justifies the one who asks to be forgiven, even if the only words uttered (or thoughts, thought) are,

God, be merciful to me, a sinner (Luke 18:13).

  • "With that confession comes the cleansing from all unrighteousness" I am confused how a beleiver can be unrighteous, and at another time, although only temporarily so, unrighteousness. The words for Justice and Righteousness are the same word steming from Justice or Dikaioo. How can a person who is not in a state of Justice, remain saved in the OSAS belief system? Do you have a source stating that these passages have been understood in history as a the source of the two types of forgiveness. A Patriarch or a theologian? I appreciate yor work, but question it as a standard.
    – Marc
    Jan 30, 2016 at 21:08
  • @Marc: The only way a person can be righteous in God's sight is to be IN CHRIST (I'm not yelling; I just don't know how to make the words bold). Being "in Christ" is a positional STANDING; it's having been declared not guilty by the Judge. Even in Christ, however, our STATE (NOT our standing) changes from day to day--sometimes minute by minute! Standing and state: two different descriptions of each & every Christian at any given time. In Christ, my standing is secure; even in Christ, however, my state fluctuates (remember John's words: "if anyone says he is without sin, he's a liar"). Jan 30, 2016 at 23:05
  • Another way of approaching the difference between standing and state is to examine how the animal sacrifices and the procedures associated with them in the OT economy differed from the various cleansings and washings which preceded the offering up of the blood of the daily sacrifices and the once-yearly application of blood in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. There was, of course, no end to the animal sacrifices and cleansings, that is until Christ appeared as the high priest (of things yet future) and entered the holy place with the greater and more perfect tabernacle: Jan 30, 2016 at 23:15
  • thank you for clarifying. I will search for scripture that suggests our state, not our justification before God changes. Would you mind editing your answer so "state" is more clear so that justification remains unaltered?
    – Marc
    Jan 30, 2016 at 23:16
  • his own blood (Hebrews 9:6 ff.). I commend Hebrews 9 to you. Notice the phrase "ashes of a heifer," which is taken from Numbers 19, and alludes to the ritual of sprinkling with the ashes of the heifer to purify people as preparation for worship. Notice, too, phrases such as "eternal redemption," "once for all," "new covenant" [in Jesus' blood; see Matthew 26:28], "better sacrifices," "once to put away sin," and "once to bear the sins of many"; all these and more speak of the finality of what Jesus accomplished on the cross as he shed his blood. I have much more to say, but email me. Don Jan 30, 2016 at 23:26

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