Allow me to assume for sake of discussion that forgiveness is a divine act of God: Only God can forgive sins and the Lord Jesus Christ has “earned” this authority on the cross and out of the grave—since, indeed, He is God, the Son. From this assumption comes the understanding that we are dispensers of this forgiveness. So in the Authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and through His blood we are able to forgive others; thus dispensing His forgiveness provided for on the cross.
With me so far?
Now comes my personal wrestling match with this morning’s main text below. It clearly says that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can forgive sins. (This is the forgiveness dispensing role, right?) But then our Master continues: “if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Does this mean I have the prerogative not to forgive someone their sins? Or does it mean I have the awesome responsibility to dispense forgiveness to these “sinners” as well?
The former appears to be very unkind and unloving, but, in truth, in years past, I have actually been taught that, “I don’t have to forgive them because the Lord says so.” Oh? Would you agree? What are your thoughts on this wrestling match? Do we have the awesome responsibility to be a forgiveness dispenser? Or do we have the divine “right” to withhold forgiveness? How do you read it?
Main Text— John 20:21–23 (NIV84)— 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.—Colossians 3:13–14 (NIV84)
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.—Matthew 6:12–15 (NIV84)
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.— Acts 7:59–60 (NIV84)
Lord Jesus Christ, make me an instrument of Your Presence to bring healing and not harm. Where there is injury, be pardon in me; where there is offense be forgiveness in me. In Your Name, Amen.