CAN CHRISTIANS REMIT SINS?
Q: “I have heard some Christians put a lot of emphasis on John 23:20-23 about remitting sins. It sounds great, but what does it mean in layman’s terms for someone like me?”
A: This is the only time this particular statement was recorded, but if you compare it with Matthew 18:15-20 you will gain more insight about it and see an important similarity. People have a tendency to take off with these types of Scriptures and make them into a pet doctrine as if there is some new revelation or insight that has been missed for over 2,000 years, ultimately overemphasizing what they think it says without being a responsible Berean by comparing it with other Scriptures to ensure they are rightly dividing the Word to bring simplicity and clarity to it as an established truth (Acts 17:10-12; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 2:15). Comparing the subject referred to in this Scripture with others simply reveals the need for God’s people to walk in forgiveness towards those who have offended them and come into agreement together in order to stand in the gap where sin has been revealed in the church.
I want to point out that “remission” has a couple of different applications depending on who is remitting sin. The Bible is clear that as believers we are to forgive those who offend, hurt, persecute, and slander us. This was brought out many times in Scripture (Matthew 6:12-15; 11:25; 18:21-23; Mark 3:28-29; Luke 17:4; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). When it comes to a believer forgiving sin, it requires a type of remission where the person forsakes his or her right to see justice, lay aside the offense to emotionally go on, omit it from the personal lists, or records, to be set free from possible resentment, to send such offense away to avoid any further mental litigation, or yield up all personal offenses to someone in a higher authority in order to prevent bitterness and anger.
Christians are also to stand in the gap for someone who is in sin. This entails becoming identified with the sin in order to serve as an intercessor before the Lord on their behalf. It is important to also point out that we can only remit something if we have been personally affected, stand in the gap if sin is troubling other believers, or is hindering the advancement of the kingdom of God in other people’s lives.
One of my commentaries stated that the priests of the Old Testament could permit or forbid something based on the Law of God. Since we are part of a priesthood the idea of remitting or retaining something fits into this category (1 Peter 2:9). We can only do something if the Word of God permits it and we must forbid a matter any credence if the Bible does not allow it. Our authority in any spiritual matter will never usurp the principle or intent of the Word of God.
The second application of remitting sins points to actually “pardoning” someone from paying for a crime. However, a judge is the only one who can pardon a person from paying the full extent of their punishment as dictated by the law. It is clear that as sinners we have broken the law of God and only God can pardon us from paying the price of spiritual death. This is made clear in Mark 2:1-7. As believers we received a pardon when we went to the Lord in true repentance and asked for forgiveness. God issued a pardon to us because His Son paid the price for our sins on the cross.
As Christians we must avoid trying to step into God shoes by believing that we have the power or authority to pardon people of unrepentant sins committed against God’s Law and that we have the means to atone or take such sin away. Only the blood of Jesus will cover and change the dynamics of sin with its cleansing power, and it is only by receiving Jesus as we humbly embrace His redemption that our sin can be taken away (Hebrews 9:22; 1 John 1:7).