“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).
Here, Jesus is talking specifically about the open charges that are brought against a member within the church and not about all other sins. Jesus appointed His disciples as representatives of His church on earth to lead the corporate body of Christ. To them, He has entrusted the responsibility of solving the problems and caring for the spiritual needs of its individual members.
Jesus explained to them how to deal with sinning members, first personally (Matt. 18:1-15, 21–35), and then with the authority of the church (vs. 16–20). Now, He restates the counsel given upon that former occasion.
The church is to work faithfully for the healing and restoration of its sinning members, encouraging them to repent and turn from their evil ways and walk rightly towards each other and society. When there is evidence that there is genuine repentance, the church is to accept the repentance as real, release the sinner from the charges brought against him from the other members (to “remit” his “sins”), and receive him back into full fellowship. Such a remitting of sins is accepted in heaven for God has already pardoned and forgiven the repentant sinner who first confessed his sins to God (Luke 15:1–7).
The Bible clearly teaches, that confession of sin and repentance for it are to be made only and directly to the throne of grace in heaven (Acts 20:21; 1 John 1:9), and that the release of the soul from sin comes only through the merits of Christ and His personal mediation (1 John 2:1).
The Lord has never delegated to sinful men, who themselves are in need of divine mercy and grace, the permission to forgive the sins of people “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
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In His service,
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