So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As My Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of anyone, 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 the sins of all and is risen again! Now He gives to His church a mission — an assignment and duty. He said to His chosen disciples, “As My Father has sent Me, even so I send you.”
He gave to His disciples the Holy Spirit and a task to carry out — to preach “repentance and remission of sins” in Jesus’ name “to all nations,” beginning right where they were, in Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47; cf. Matt. 28:16-20).
And God’s called ministers today are still to forgive the sins of those who repent and turn to Christ Jesus in faith and to retain the sins of those who do not repent. As Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of anyone, they are retained.”
Jesus is not here giving to any person, or to a church, the power to forgive and retain sins according to their own whims or choosing. Rather, He gives to the church and its ministers the duty to preach and proclaim that all should repent and turn to Christ Jesus for forgiveness and life. To those who repent of their sins and turn to Jesus the church proclaims 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 the church, through its ministers, proclaims God’s wrath and punishment upon their sins! Cf. Matt. 18:15-18; John 8:24; Hebrews 10:26-31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Thus, when God’s ministers rightly apply and proclaim God’s Word and counsel, forgiving the sins of penitent sinners and retaining the sins of the impenitent, their words are as certain and true as if God Himself had spoken them from His throne in heaven! Cf. Luther’s Small Catechism, explanation to the Office of the Keys.
What is genuine repentance? It is not simply going through the motions of 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 atoning sacrifice on the cross for forgiveness, and then (as a fruit of repentance) seeking God’s help and aid to amend our lives and live for Christ Jesus, who died for us and rose again (cf. 1 John 1:7—2:6; 2 Cor. 5:15, 17; Psalm 51).
God would have each of us live in continual repentance, examining ourselves in the light of God’s pure Word, being genuinely sorry for our sins and 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! Cf. Mark 16:16.
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 Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]