I’m Confused

Scripture: Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”   John 20:21-23 NIV

Observation: Jesus sends his disciples out in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Application: I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood this before but it appears that Jesus gave us tremendous power. We, as his Spirit filled disciples, have been given the power to forgive sin. I’m not sure as I write this what that exactly means. I have a picture in my mind of a Catholic priest bestowing forgiveness upon a contrite confessor. Does this simply mean that when we are personally offended by another we may forgive the offense and the offender? Or, does it mean that if a person comes to us to confess an offense to us or another no matter the magnitude, we are to guide them in seeking to restore broken relationships with God and man? I’m really not sure what this passage means. I could use a bit of guidance here. Help!

Prayer: Father, sometimes I read your word and everything is crystal clear. Other times I struggle. Help me to know what you want me to learn as I read daily. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen


4 Replies to “I’m Confused”

  1. Hi Doug;

    The first thing to remember when looking at a passage is that it must be in agreement with the rest of scripture; that is, if it might (in isolation) be understood in a variety of ways, the way which does not invalidate other parts of scripture is the right one.

    On the topic of forgiveness then, we must first bear in mind that it properly belongs to Christ, through his blood (Matthew 26:28; Acts 5:31), and that forgiveness comes by faith in him and through his name (Acts 10:43, 13:38). Therefore, we can immediately rule out the idea of the further act of a human agent or priest being necessary for forgiveness.

    Rather, I suggest reading the chapter as a whole, particularly verse 29 and 31 – the first (“blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”) which is to show the necessity of faith; and again “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”, which is to show the work of the Holy Spirit in the apostles to testify to God, that others might learn the Gospel from them and believe, even to salvation.

    The context of the larger Biblical narrative, the promises made by Christ, and the work which the Apostles then go on to do all point towards the nature of this ‘power’ being exercised by proclaiming the Gospel; this in itself the work of God by the Spirit, and it is this very work which is elsewhere shown to bring about faith. (e.g. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”, Romans 10:17).

    Therefore, Christ boldly and clearly states that the Holy Spirit is given to the Apostles for this work, so that they might proclaim the Gospel, that as many hear it and believe are forgiven their sins by the blood of Christ; and as many as do not hear or reject it have their sins retained even until the day of judgement.

    If you’re willing, I would suggest you read Calvin on this passage, as he sets things out in a very clear way on this occasion, starting with the boldface ’23:’
    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom35.x.iv.html – his discussion differs from mine in direction.

    If you think on your own conversion to Christianity; were you not converted by hearing or reading the Gospel set forth by a Christian? Did you not thereby gain the forgiveness of sins, by the work of that brother – and not because he or she said to you “I forgive you”, but because it was shown to you the Gospel that Christ died for your sin, and thus that God forgives you?

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