In John 20:23, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon his closest disciples and commissioned them with the words: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn. 20:23, NKJV)

While growing up in the Catholic Church, I was taught that to be forgiven we had to confess our sin to a priest who was empowered to dispense forgiveness and assign acts of penance to us on God’s behalf. I confess that I never cared much for that system of forgiveness! When I later became an evangelical Christian, I came to have an entirely new understanding of God’s forgiveness toward believers. The life of Jesus provides a compelling model of forgiveness. His main purpose for coming to earth was to forgive, to embrace, to heal, and to redeem. He forgave the sins of a woman caught in adultery, even though she didn’t ask him for forgiveness. He simply gave and she received. Likewise, while hanging upon the cross he asked his heavenly father to forgive Roman soldiers “for they know not what they do.” And he willingly forgave a repentant criminal who was being crucified beside him.

When Jesus told his closest disciples that any sins they forgive are forgiven by God, he pronounced this immediately after breathing the Spirit upon them. So, there seems to be a close connection between the indwelling of the Spirit and knowing what to forgive and what not to forgive. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to lead the apostles in all truth. A major part of that promise would be fulfilled by the divine inspiration given to apostles for proclaiming holy scripture (i.e., books of the New Testament). When the New Testament speaks of something being sinful or wrong we tend to view that as applying universally to the Church. Conversely, if the scriptures speak of something as permitted or good, we also tend to accept that as universally true in the Church. This is one way we can see how the apostles both “forgave” and “withheld” forgiveness (e.g., permission). While most Protestant ministers wouldn’t claim to serve as God’s agents to either judge or forgive, they assure fellow believers of their confidence that the Lord forgives every believer who confesses a sin to God.

Even though we are far removed from the apostles in both time and authority, all believers have a responsibility to forgive those who have offended us, (which doesn’t always mean relationship restoration). While such forgiveness takes place on a horizontal plane, the act of forgiving can release us from the prison of an unforgiving heart and also keep us in a right relationship “vertically” with God our Savior. So, may you and I rejoice to be forgiven, forgivers!

Pastor Dave Korinek

Subscribe to the Daily Fill