“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
(John 20:23 ESV)
We’ve discussed the subject of accountability twice in recent days at Prince of Peace. The first was at our men’s study. And the second was at our Spiritual Life Meetings, where we focused on battling our temptations.
We were encouraged to confess our sins to one another, as commanded in the epistle of James (5:16). We were also encouraged to find an accountability partner: someone to whom we can confess our sins, but also someone who will help us to avoid sin by confronting us with the hard questions. We then, in turn, do the same for them.
Many of us are uncomfortable with this practice because confession seems too Catholic. When we think of confession, we think of going to the priest, kneeling in the confessional, and acknowledging our wrongdoing. And, because we disagree with several points of Catholic doctrine, we want nothing to do with it.
Another reason we’re uncomfortable with this practice is because we like to hide our sin. We like to put on a show of righteousness while, privately, we continue in our sinful behaviors. In fact, we have no desire to turn from our sin.
And not only do refuse to acknowledge our sin and our guilt. We also like to deny that our sin is truly sin. We seek to justify our sinful behaviors. We like to pretend that they are good, which takes confession out of the equation.
However, and this is where I want to focus my attention now, another reason we’re uncomfortable with this practice is because we don’t feel worthy or capable of performing the work of a confessor. We don’t feel worthy to announce to someone the forgiveness of their sins. We don’t feel that we possess the authority to do so.
However, in the above passage, we see our authority. This authority has been given to us by Christ. And this authority is empowered by the Spirit of God.
Christ has authorized us to announce the forgiveness of sins. And, even though this thought makes us even more uncomfortable, he’s also given us the authority to withhold the forgiveness of sins.
If we sought to perform this work on our own, we would be unworthy. If we sought to perform it on our own, we would be incapable. After all, we’re all sinners deserving of God’s judgment. And, in ourselves, we have no authority to forgive sins or to withhold forgiveness. It’s only by the call of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit that we do so.
This doesn’t mean that we can arbitrarily decide whom we will and won’t forgive. We are acting under Christ’s authority, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This means that the basis for doing this is the gospel. The basis of this is the Word and promise of God.
We know that those who confess their sins, who repent of their sin, and who trust in Christ are promised forgiveness. If, then, someone comes to us in this spirit, we announce to them the forgiveness of their sins. And if someone comes without this spirit, we announce to them that they are not forgiven.
This is an important ministry that even dedicated Christians have gotten away from. And, for this reason, it’s a practice that I’d like to encourage once again. It’s not merely a tradition flowing from an ancient branch of the Christian faith. It’s a practice that is commanded and encouraged by God himself.