Who Can Forgive Sins?

Rev. Donald C. Elifson

There are huge church organizations which claim that Christ has given them the exclusive right to forgive sins. This is a false claim; no church can forgive sins. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can remit sins! Here is the record of what Christ said: "When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven you'" (Mark 2:5). "But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins...." (Mark 2:10).

The above text teaches that Christ has power on earth to forgive sins. He does not forgive the sins of those who have passed into eternity unforgiven. If our sins are not forgiven before we die, they never will be. Hear the Lord's words in John 8:24: "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." A person either dies in his sins or he dies in the Lord. We read, "Blessed are they who die in the Lord" (Rev. 14:13).

There is no such place as Purgatory. This term is an invention of men and is based on a false conception of the plan of salvation. The advocates of the doctrine of Purgatory argue to this effect: a person is not good enough to go to heaven and not bad enough to go to hell, so he goes to a middle place where his sins are purged by intense suffering in fire. The Bible, however, teaches that no one is good enough to go to heaven and that every human being is bad enough to go to hell. Everyone in heaven is there as a sinner saved by grace. The very moment a lost sinner believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, his sins are once and for all judicially forgiven before a Holy God. It is true that we need to be forgiven of our daily sins in order to have fellowship with God, but this is all due to the fact that the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, keeps on cleansing us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

In John 20:23 our Lord said to the apostles: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Upon this text has been built a terrible doctrine. Some of the greatest acts of spiritual tyranny have been supported by the misuse of this text. It is claimed that Peter was given the keys of heaven and hell, and that these keys have been passed on to his religious successors.

As one studies the book of Acts and Peter's epistles, he finds that Peter never made such claims. In the book of Acts, Peter told the Jewish rulers that Christ is the foundation stone of salvation. Read these words carefully: "This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:11.12).

Not once does the Apostle Peter claim that he is the rock or that he has the exclusive power to forgive sins. He calls Christ "the living stone...chosen of God and precious," and all believers are "living stones" in a spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:4,5). In 1 Peter 2:6, he again refers to Christ as "a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him shall not be confounded." Peter agrees with the Apostle Paul that Christ is the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).

Our Lord told the Apostle John, in Rev. 1:18, these important words: "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death." Thus we see that the keys of eternal destiny are in the hands of our infallible Lord. How sad it would be if these keys were in the hands of fallible, ignorant, and many times wicked men! Their claims are refuted by the word of God.

In what sense could the apostles forgive sins? They were able to do this only by declaring the terms of forgiveness. On the day of Pentecost, Peter told the people of Israel what God required them to do in order to be forgiven of their sins, especially the sin of crucifying Christ. Those who met the conditions were forgiven not by Peter, but by God. For Jesus had said on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Peter preached the terms of forgiveness to Cornelius. "To Him (Christ) all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43).

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, announced the terms of forgiveness for this dispensation of God's grace: "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38,39).

When people met the conditions of faith in Christ, their sins were forgiven. Paul told the Ephesians, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7).

Neither the Apostle Peter nor Paul had a successor. With the death of the Apostle John, the apostolic office ceased, because the Word of God was complete. The terms of forgiveness are found in the Bible.

Any Christian can announce the terms of forgiveness to a lost sinner. Anyone who knows the facts of the Gospel can declare the terms of forgiveness to a dying man; and on the basis of believing the Gospel, that dying man can be assured the forgiveness of sin.

This is the simplicity of the Gospel. Do not allow anyone to corrupt your mind from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3,4).

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