Can Christians forgive sins too?

In John 20:23, Jesus says to his disciples, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” It sounds like Jesus is giving his disciples the authority to forgive sins. Do Christians today, then, have the authority to forgive and not forgive other people’s sins as well?

Well, of course I can tell people their sins are forgiven because, thanks to Christ, their sins are forgiven. I have the full right and authority to say to a person that no matter what he or she has said, thought or done, it has already been forgiven, because “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting mens’s sins against them,” 2 Corinthians 5:19. Every sin, no matter how severe or awful, has already been dismissed and neutralized by the full authority of God, because, verse 21, “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus took all our sin into and onto himself.

So when my granddaughter broke one of our dishes and she was devastated I grabbed her by the shoulders, looked her in the eye, and with all the authority of God, Scripture, the world being reconciled to God in Christ’s sacrifice, and Christ taking all our sin into himself, I pronounced her “forgiven.” And was she forgiven? Well, of course she was, because there isn’t a sin, mistake, deliberate nasty act, or insensitive stupidity in her life that wasn’t forgiven by Christ’s death. Breaking our dish was already forgiven 2,000 years ago.

So I’d done my part correctly, by pronouncing her forgiven. The focus then turned to her, as to whether she believed me, or not. If she believed me, that yes, her mistake was totally forgiven, she could run off feeling totally free of all guilt and worry. If, on the other hand, she doubted me, then I would have to say, “Well, if that’s what you prefer to believe – that you’re not forgiven – then fine, you’re not forgiven and you can jolly well live with the consequences, my dear. Let your guilt and worry continue. You’re a silly fool, because Christ died to free you of all guilt and worry, but that’s your choice not to believe me, so I pronounce you ‘not forgiven,’ and may you live with what it feels like not being forgiven until you believe you are forgiven.”

It’s like the person who “does not believe standing condemned already” in John 3:18. That’s his choice, so with all the authority of Christ I can say, “You can jolly well live with your choice not to believe, and may you stand condemned until you believe.”

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