Monday, April 25, 2011

A Confusing Text Made More Clear - John 20:23

On Easter Sunday I preached from John 20 and read the following verse:
John 20:23 (ESV) 
23 If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld."
Do we really have the power to forgive people’s sins? This passage seems to suggest that we have the power to forgive people’s sins and to withhold forgiveness from people. Taken out of its context, people have abused this verse to say such things. One always has to be careful to observe the context of a passage when interpreting its meaning.
As we look at the two verses before this passage, we can learn more about what verse 23 means:
John 20:21-22 (ESV) 
21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
We can now see that this passage is located within the context of evangelism, since Jesus says in verse 21, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
The idea is not that individual Christians or churches have authority on their own to forgive or not forgive people, but rather that as the church proclaims the gospel message of forgiveness of sins in the power of the Holy Spirit (see v. 22), it proclaims that those who believe in Jesus have their sins forgiven, and that those who do not believe in him do not have their sins forgiven—which simply reflects what God in heaven has already done based on their trust in Jesus.
I am thankful for a church that boldly proclaims the Gospel of Jesus to our community. May we continue to do so in the power of the Holy Spirit, and may we never withhold the message of the Gospel from anyone!
May no one in Mercer County go to Hell because of our silence!
-       Bro. Dave

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