Can a Christian Remit Sins?

by Rayola Kelley

Q: I know this question may seem silly, but what does remission imply for believers in light of John 20:23? 

A: Questions such as yours are not silly. It appears that to avoid being embarrassed, many Christians will hold onto assumptions about spiritual subjects, rather than ask questions as a means to confirm or develop a right premise of truth concerning such matters.

      We know that in all other Scriptures, except the one in John where remission is mentioned, it had to do with the forgiveness or pardon of sin. Scripture is clear that only God, as the great, ultimate Judge of the universe, can forgive, pardon, or show complete absolution of sin (Luke 5:20-24).  We are told in Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”

      Remission also reminds us of the changing of the guard. In the OT atonement was made for sins. In other words, they were covered by the blood of some innocent animal. However, in the NT, remission points to that fact that our sin has been taken away, completely removed by the blood of Jesus. It cannot be uncovered again for it is no longer.

      When it comes to John 20:23, it was in reference to Church discipline. The disciples were reminded that they had the responsibility to confront sin in their midst in a proper way. Much of how we view sin depends on our attitude about it. We decide what sins we become offended with, what sins we show tolerance towards (released-remitted), and what sins must be confronted (retained until there is a proper show of repentance). Some sins simply offend our pride, while other sins are a matter of trespassing God’s Law or covenant. When it comes to offenses that offend our pride, godly love should cover them with honesty about the problem resting with our pride (not the offender), tolerance towards human frailty, and awareness that most people are ignorant of committing such offenses (1 Peter 4:8). Notice that godly love will cover such sins, but it cannot remit them. It can show tolerance that speaks of releasing oneself from seeing someone pay the price for such offenses to ensure purity of spirit, purity of conscience, and purity of conduct, for a root of bitterness will defile everything. Clearly, tolerance must also be displayed towards those who have repented of past sins with the intent to restore. After all, remission ends in restoration.

      However, when God’s Law or covenant is broken such as stealing, adultery, lying, etc., it must be confronted for the sake of the offender and rooted out for the sake of the Body.Matthew 18:15-18 clearly explains the proper conduct when it comes to Church discipline. However, these instructions clearly point out that such remission or retaining must be done in light of Scriptural instructions. It does this by reminding us that all matters were bound to the disciplines and judgments of the Law and could only be loosed once a matter was determined to be in line with heaven itself. We see in the case of the fornicator in 1 Corinthians 5, that his sin was brought to the forefront and retained as so until he repented. Upon his repentance, his sin was remitted as the Body was instructed to release him from further judgment and to restore him (2 Corinthians 2:6-11).

      The problem with much of our attitude towards sin is that we take great offense against sin that personally offends our pride or religious standards, but we do not regard how it affects the offender’s relationship with God. We end up caring more about our righteous indignation instead of the broken fellowship that has occurred between God and that person. We do not regard sin in light of whether it will end in the death of that person’s soul. We do not possess the love that will in meekness and love contend for the soul with the desire to see complete restoration between the person and God. James 5:19-20 puts this subject in this light,“Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”