|Posted on March 21, 2019 at 10:25 AM|
One of my favorite descriptions of the mission Jesus gave the church he promised to build is found in John’s gospel, John 20: 21, “Then said Jesus unto them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father has sent me, even so send I you.” Although it is a simple and very brief statement it is filled with meaning and utterly profound. In the same exact way that God the Father sent his only begotten son into this world Jesus is sending his church into this world. Because of our union with Christ it should be no surprise that we would continue his work in the world. Having been joined to Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection we have received his character and very life to live out in this world he sends us into. Because we have the Spirit and mind of Christ we share in his continuing work in this present world. As the Apostle Paul will later describe it, the church Jesus is building is the “Body of Christ” and we are each one “members of his body” coordinated by Jesus who is the “Head of the body” and continues to work in this world through his body.
Profound as that commission was, what followed was even more so. Immediately after he gave the commission John says, “…he breathed on them and said Receive the Holy Spirit. Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20: 22-23). After granting them the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit Jesus assured them that they would serve a vital function in the forgiveness of sins. Just as with the promise of “binding and loosing” given to them earlier, Jesus promised the authority to express his will in the issue of forgiving sins. The more accurate translation is, “Whosoever sins ye remit, shall have already been remitted and continue to be remitted, and whosoever sins ye retain shall have already be retained and continue to be retained”. In essence Jesus gave them the authority to speak for him concerning the matter of the forgiveness of sins.
At first glance it may seem that Jesus was giving the church (his called-out ones) the power to forgive sins. However, it is clear from his own statements that only he has the power or authority from the Father to do so. He has not given us the authority to forgive sins but rather the privilege of telling others that their sins are forgiven by him. The basis for this authority is found in the personal leadership and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the primary duty of the church share with people the good news that God has done everything necessary to forgive their sins. The means by which he has done this is through the cross of Jesus through which their old, sinful persons were crucified with Jesus, buried with him, and brand-new persons were created and raised up with him.
Those who accept this gospel by faith experience the forgiveness of sins, but those who refuses to believe what God has done for them continue to suffer the consequences of their sins. The church Jesus is building today will no doubt focus its message on the good news of what God has done in Christ to forgive their sins. Man made institutions, however, tend to focus their message on moral codes, religious performance, and self-reformation. The church Jesus is building will emphasize faith in what God has done in Christ, whereas religious organizations tend to emphasize rule-keeping and works designed to maintain their organization structure. What a glorious privilege we have to tell people their sins have been forgiven, not because of what they have or could do, but because of what God has already done for them!