“So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me; I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” John 20:21-23 (Read John 20:19-23; Cf. Luke 24:46-47; Matt. 18:15-18.)
Jesus has fulfilled the Scriptures. He has suffered and died for our sins and is risen again! Now He gives to us a mission — an assignment and duty. He said, “As the Father has sent Me; I also send you.”
He has given us His Holy Spirit and a task to carry out. We are to preach “repentance and remission of sins” in Jesus’ name “to all nations,” beginning right here where we are (Luke 24:46-47). We are to forgive the sins of those who repent and turn to Christ Jesus in faith and retain the sins of those who do not repent. As Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus is not here giving to any person or church the power to forgive and retain sins according to their own will or choosing. Rather, He gives to all believers the duty to preach and proclaim that all should repent and turn to Christ Jesus for forgiveness and life. To those who repent and turn from their sins to Jesus we proclaim God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus (cf. Psalm 32:1-5; John 8:11; 1 John 1:7 – 2:2). To those who are impenitent and continue on in their sinful ways we proclaim God’s wrath and punishment upon their sins! Cf. Matt. 18:15-18.
Thus, when we rightly apply and proclaim God’s Word and counsel, forgiving the sins of penitent sinners and retaining the sins of the impenitent, our words are as certain and true as if God Himself had spoken them from His throne in heaven!
What is genuine repentance? It is not simply acknowledging that we are sinners, asking God to forgive us, and then continuing on in our sinful ways (cf. Luke 3:7ff.)! Rather, it is acknowledging and sorrowing over our sinful ways, turning to Jesus Christ and His cross for forgiveness, and then (as a fruit of repentance) seeking God’s help and aid to amend our lives and live for Christ who died for us and rose again (cf. 1 John 1:7—2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:15, 17; Psalm 51).
God would also have each of us live in continual repentance, being genuinely sorry for our sins, trusting in Jesus’ shed blood for forgiveness, and then continually seeking (in God’s strength) to live our lives according to God’s Word.
Are you genuinely repentant? If so, you are in Christ and have complete forgiveness for all your sins (cf. 1 John 1:7ff.). But if, on the other hand, you are unwilling to give up your sinful ways and turn to God for forgiveness and life in His Son, Jesus Christ, you remain dead in your sins and under God’s wrath and judgment!
Dearest Christ Jesus, we have sinned in thought, word and deed and have failed to live in accord with Your perfect will. Forgive us for the sake of Your holy and precious blood, shed for us upon the cross, and grant us Your Spirit and give us a genuine desire to please You always. Amen.
[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]