Unsearchable Riches: The Authority to Forgive Sin
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:21-23)
“So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he then said to the paralytic—”Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:6-8)
I was about to suggest that this is one of the most powerful and controversial of the riches of Christ, but every particular gleam of the Pearl has the same potential to transform and revolutionize.
Jesus visited the planet with the authority to forgive sin. And Jesus is sending us into the world the same way the Father sent Jesus into the world, with the same authority, the same ability, the same option, to forgive sin. Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The soldiers and gawkers at the foot of the cross hadn’t repented, but Jesus and the Father forgave their sins nonetheless.
Christ set the example for forgiving unrepentant sinners on the cross. God-in-Christ forgave the soldiers and religious leaders at the foot of the cross. The soldiers and religious leaders had not repented. I am assuming, of course, that Jesus’ prayer was according to his Father’s will, and that the fervent prayer of a righteous Man availeth much.
- When we are fully trained, we will be like our Teacher.
- We are commanded to forgive sins.
- We are authorized to forgive sins.
- As his Body and his Bride, we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, which
means we have inherited all titles and prerogatives. This includes his exousia (authority), which includes the authority to forgive sin.
- We are his Body, his hands and feet, his eyes and heart. We are his Body, Christ’s Body on earth.
If you think I’m pinning too much on a single verse, it’s not a single verse. Note that Matthew says the people marveled that God had given such authority to human beings, not just to Christ. Note also that the authority to forgive sin is not restricted to some special category of priests, but is the prerogative of the priesthood of all believers.
In the context of John, exercising the Christian ministry of forgiveness is the immediate consequence of being sent into the world as Christ was sent into the world. Additionally, the authority to forgive sins is the immediate result of receiving the Holy Spirit. The phrases”receive the Holy Spirit,” “being sent,” and “forgiving anyone their sins” are intimately connected here in John 20:21-23. “Since you are filled with the Holy Spirit, as the Father sent me, you go and forgive sins,” is an appropriate paraphrase.
Allow me to respond to a very common criticism I hear from some believers. When it comes to interpreting Scripture and provoking our brothers and sisters to love and good deeds, we aren’t doing any of it because we are afraid of “offending” people, or because we are more concerned about being “P.C.” than in the truth of God. We live this way for a variety of reasons. Some of us out of obedience to Jesus, because he commanded us to. Others of us because the Spirt and the Image of God compel us. But you know–you don’t have to offer reasons for doing the right thing. He who knows to do right and does it not, to him it is sin.
It is conceivable to me that God could call some people to bind other peoples’ sins to them, and refuse to forgive them. While it seems to fly in the face of Jesus’ overwhelming endorsement and ministry of forgiveness, and practically negates Jeremiah’s New Covenant, God is certainly free to work in his servants as he will. Just because I don’t understand or I disagree doesn’t make me the judge of another man’s servant.
Unsearchable Riches: Kenosis (κενωσις)
Although Christ existed in the form (μορφωη–morphe) of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be held tightly, but emptied Himself. (Philippians 2:7)
Years ago I was taught, and believed, that Jesus was omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, that these were essential for Jesus to be God. When I studied the kenosis passage above (which I discussed recently in another post), I discovered that Jesus was none of these things. I didn’t cease believing in the Deity of Christ (that was nailed for me by Isaiah 9:6), but not as I had thought and spake as a child.
In what sense was Jesus God? There are many ways to describe this, but here is how I understand it. First, the Messiah was prophesied as the son who would be born, the child who wold be given, whose names would include “the Mighty God” and “the Everlasting Father.” To this I add the simple equation from the Greek scriptures, “God is Love.” In simple terms, Jesus was God because he was the perfect expression of Love, the perfect Incarnation of Love.
Because Jesus was not omniscient, omnipotent, nor omnipresent, there are no limitations on the degree to which we can become like our Teacher. Everything Jesus did was done by virtue of his intimate union with the Father (the son will be called the Father and the mighty God) and because of the indwelling Holy Spirit (“the Lord who is Spirit” of II Corinthians 3).
This is important because if Jesus is not a credible example, then any exhortation to Christ-likeness if stupid. (Did I write that?) I used to tire of hearing people say, “Well of course Jesus could ______, he was God.” No, everything he did was done the same way we do any good thing — by virtue of our union with Christ, the Father, and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus didn’t have a God-button hidden on his utility belt he could push when he needed to pull off a miracle–unless I misplaced mine somewhere.
Unsearchable Riches: Christ my Brother
So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11)
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29)
Let me cut to the chase on this: Jesus is God, and we are God’s Brothers and Sisters.
Jesus is not ashamed to call me his brother, which by itself seems pretty extraordinary sometimes. This is why I am not ashamed to call Fred Phelps my brother. But add to that the phrase, “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,” and we are really in the presence of that overused word, awesome-ness. Someday I may discuss the words εικων (eikon/icon) and μορφωη (morphe). Suffice it to say that these are profound words to apply to vessels of clay.
Repentance (Metanoia) Revisited
You may understand why many people, myself included, are not satisfied with the English word “repentance” as a translation for metanoia (μετανοια). The command to “repent” usually conjures up ideas of “repenting” of particular sins. As I wrote in a recent post, the limited applications of that word is inadequate and misleading. The command “Repent!” is much more akin to “Be transformed!” A fundamental transformation of our self-understanding is called for. More adequate ways to understand μετανοια would be:
- a change of mind and heart
- change of consciousness
- to think differently afterward, or
- a transformation
We are icons (εικων) of Christ; Christ is being morphed (μορφωθη) in us. For many of us, becoming a follower of Christ will mean time spent meditating on things like being heirs of God, sitting on the throne of Christ, forgiving sin, and allow the Spirit to reveal to us what those and other treasures entail.