John 20.22-23 cont.
22 And saying this He breathed on them and says to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
23 If you should forgive anyone their sins, they stand forgiven; if you withhold (forgiveness) it stands withheld.
The forgiveness of sins is a remarkable feature of being sent out by Jesus to preach the gospel.
Does this mean that believers have the power to forgive people their sins?
Large sections of the church have taken upon themselves that a priest is able to hear people’s confession and then forgive them for the sins they have just confessed.
However, Jesus never said that it was only priests who had this power. Instead Jesus was speaking to His disciples, who were not priests. They were apostles, and were so from the very moment when Jesus said:
“as the Father has sent Me, I also send you”.
There is a real sense in which Jesus commissions and sends out everyone who receives Him as Lord and Saviour. Therefore, these words of Jesus are for each one of us.
How can we forgive people their sins?
The answer is only in the power of the Holy Spirit, for this is the context in which Jesus gave this commission.
It is in the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to preach the gospel of Jesus, and in the same power we are able to confirm the forgiveness that Jesus has won for us on the cross.
What we are able to do is to confer that God in Christ Jesus, upon their repentance, forgives people,.
Forgiveness is also dependent upon repentance of sins. Where there is no repentance forgiveness is not received. Continual confession without repentance is hypocrisy; words devoid of actions.
W Barclay makes the point that no man or woman is entrusted with the power to forgive sins, but that we have been entrusted with the power to proclaim God’s forgiveness.
This was the message that Peter first preached on the day of Pentecost, having just been baptized in the Holy Spirit:
“Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2.38 (NLT).
We also have the privilege to be baptized in the same power to preach the same message.