All pardon for sins ultimately comes from Christ’s finished work on Calvary, but how is this pardon received by individuals? Did Christ leave us any means within the Church to take away sin? The Bible says he gave us two means.
Ultimately every power to forgive sins comes from Christ’s merits on Calvary. This is received by individuals in two ways; Baptism which washes away original sin, and Confession which washes away actual sins.
The Apostles in the NT stressed the importance and central role of baptism, which also washes away actual sins committed before baptism:
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38)
“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). And so Peter later wrote, “Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).
But for the Sacrament of penance (also called Confession, Reconciliation, etc) Christ instituted this for the help needed for each Christian to keep fit on the race to heaven.
God sent Jesus to forgive sins:
“‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21–23).
Christ has power to forgive : “the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6), which is why the Gospel writer himself explains that God “had given such authority to men” (Matt. 9:8).
He gave it to men, his Apostles so that this gift may reach everyone in every generation (see Matt. 28:20). This power is inherited also by their successors in order that in all places the work of salvation continue till Christ comes again.
When the Lord sent his Apostles he sent them “as the Father sent me (Christ)”
“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). Whenever God sends someone, they carry his word and his power. The Apostles carried these: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). “So we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20).
When the Lord said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” This means that when Peter and Paul died, others would take over after them until they make disciples of “all nations”. This means that the power received by the Apostles didn’t die with them; their successors inherit and pass them on.
When Christ gave the apostles power to “Bind and lose” which means to forgive or to retain them unforgiven. Technically this means they’d have to know the sin in order to forgiven or retain them. Here confession is implied.
Again, if it was just their duty to announce forgiveness already received from Christ’s suffering to men then they’d have no reason to have the power to “retain” any sins.
The coming of Christ brought with it great hope, his death, resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit, is an objective conclusion of his work of redemption. The institution of the Church, the Charismatic gifts of the Apostles ensures the spreading of his word and the ministry of Salvation to all men. The very fact that man could be an Apostle is a gift to his Church, through this gift he continues to work, to shepherd, to ensure his most prized possession is kept from all blemish.
By the anointing he himself received from the Father, the anointing who is the Holy Spirit himself, he forgave sins; bringing back to life all those who are dead in sin.
He ensures the continued guidance of his Church, and his continued work of redemption through his Apostles, their succession of which reaches every generation, neither diminishing the urgency of the message, nor the Authority of their office. So that at every age, Christ is present in his Church, working through her ministers, and bringing fresh hope of redemption to all men of every age.
If we accept the call of Christ to redemption, admitting our faults, asking for sacramental pardon, and striving afterwards to stay away from sin and turn instead to the pursuit of God’s will, then we shall be forgiven and through his great mercy saved at last. However, if we reject, if we turn back and refuse his mercy, we are left on our own, and at last shall be lost.
And When We Are Forgiven
Gratitude for receiving forgiveness, or even for the possibility of receiving it requires we: seek to please God, forgive others, do not offend against his mercy by presumption and despair. Are we to fall again into sin, we are to rise quickly and return to Jesus, throwing away all instruments of sin, and embracing again his love and mercy. Sincerity is also a sacrifice we must offer in order to receive forgiveness. What separates a penitent from an unrepentant sinner is sincerity. A penitent recognizes both his sin, and God’s holiness and mercy. An unrepentant sinner does not care about his sins, or he confesses without actually being sincere/sorry about it.
Confession; Celebrating Reconciliation
The Lord, on his first appearance to the Apostles after his resurrection breathed on them and Said “receive the HOLY SPIRIT, if you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained”. (John 20:22-23) And later on:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you, and look I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:18-20)
He says “make disciples” “baptise them”, which in other words means “minister salvation unto them”.
WHAT SOME PEOPLE ARE SCARED OF AND WHY THERE SHOULD BE NO FEAR
Many people are scared of the idea of man forgiving sins even in the name of Christ and his Church. To them, it means impersonating, or claiming divine Authority above the grasp of Man. However, basic Christian belief totally goes against such fear. At baptism, one receives Salvation, holistic restoration of Spiritual wellness, of communion with God and community, of forgiveness of actual and original sin.
Without the Authority of Jesus, no one could be baptised; without his extending this authority to man, we would not be able to receive baptism; the power to forgive comes from Jesus, and the ability for one to baptise (in the name of Christ) comes from Jesus’ ability to extend this authority to every age. When you say “I baptise you” it means “I redeem you, in the name of Christ” which really does not mean “by my power I redeem you” but more like “by the Lord’s power/command, He saves you through my service”. Baptism remains, objectively speaking, a greater miracle than the Sacrament of Confession, at baptism one is set free from all the faults of his entire life, from original sin, and all the punishments due to his personal sins are entirely wiped off. He becomes as clean as an Angel, a Spiritual Wonder. This miracle is wrought by Christ through the ministry of men. Why then must we be scared of the idea of confession when it is the same Christ who said to the same Apostles “if you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained”, (John 20:22-23) and by virtue of Apostolic Succession has blessed his Church with this same Authority in our day (just as he has blessed us with the Baptismal Power today). Confession does less than Baptism (This is only for the purpose of analogy), confession forgives the guilt of sins committed, but removes only a part of their temporal punishment (which is the effect of sins; the disorder caused by sins committed; that undue attachment to created things over God. Which attachments are treated here or in purgatory)
Christ, in sending the Holy Spirit, has given man the power to act in his name, to perform divine actions: to heal the sick, raise the dead and proclaim the Kingdom of God on earth. These were characteristic of Jesus’ ministry. The idea behind the institution of a Church is to CONTINUE THIS MINISTRY, THE SAME MINISTRY OF JESUS, UNTIL HE COMES AGAIN, to proclaim his divinity, his saving help to all men; by actually reflecting this divinity in the work of sanctification performed by the Church. It means extending a hand of his support, a caress of his love, a kiss of his peace, a rebuke when we linger in sin, and the words of his forgiveness when we sincerely come to him. It means working as MEMBERS OF HIS BODY, being his hands, his eyes, his feet, his heart beating in the world; it means being filled with the Same anointing with which the Father anointed him, and pouring fourth on the earth the overflow of his divine love. It means being his hands that labours, his feet that races to help others, his heart that beats for all men, and his mouth that speaks words of hope, love and forgiveness.
When the Lord revealed the coming of a Messiah, the people of Israel accepted this offer and lived joyfully in hope, without actually knowing how he had chosen to come; without understanding the density of the incarnation. Upon his coming to the world, he was unrecognised by many, simply because men are scared to accept the divine generosity of God to collaborate with man. Men are always dazzled by the illuminating proposals of God to them; of collaboration and covenantal unity. Christ had a lot of work to do, of convincing the people he actually is the Saviour; he is not just a prophet but the Only-Begotten Son of God; He is himself God.
Today we are grateful that God has come to dwell with us, and we can call him “Emmanuel” however we remain scared of pondering the real implication of this; we are happy about his gifts, but too scared to consider the implication of even his commands to us; his summons to work with him. To collaborate with us, God took our nature and became like us, to collaborate with him, God lifts us to become divine; through the Holy Spirit acting in the Laying on of the Apostles’ (Bishops’) hands, raising in Holy Orders those upon whose shoulders are laid heavier burdens and greater privilege to work in the name of Christ; to forgive sins, to bring hope and to minister salvation to all men.