|This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!|
People often object to the sacrament of confession saying that only God can forgive sins. Christ’s opponents said exactly the same thing 2000 years ago and were rebuked for it, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7, Luke 5:21, Matt 9:3) Jesus could have easily told them that He was God and that was why He was able to forgive sins, but He didn’t do that because He had something else to show them. Jesus reply to them was, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise take up your pallet and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of man has the authority to forgive sins on earth” --He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home” (Mark 2:9-11, Matt 9:4-6, Luke 5:22-24). And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men (Matt 9:7-8). The authority was given to men (plural), the Father gave it to Jesus (fully man and fully God) and Jesus gave it to His Church.
The Church was given the power to forgive sins by Jesus
In John’s account of the Great Commission, we read how Jesus, on the evening of His resurrection, gave to His disciples the authority to forgive sins as promised in Matt 9. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you”. And when He 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 20:21-22). In Matthew’s version of the Great Commission, Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). Jesus knew that it would be necessary to continue the Great Commission after the death of the Apostles. That is why Jesus promised: “lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:20). Christ’s authority continues in the Church until the close of the age, not just until the death of the Apostles. This authority was passed on from the Apostles to their successors in the Church. Jesus was talking to the eleven Apostles here (Matt 28:16, Mark 16:14, Luke 24:33). There is sin in the world today just as in the first century, so the divine remedy for sin is still necessary. Since the priest has the authority to forgive or retain sins, it must be necessary to tell the sins to the priest so he can decide which sins to forgive and which sins to retain. Jesus knew that since people still sin after baptism, the sacrament of confession is necessary.
The Church of the New Testament followed Jesus’ command and forgave sins
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-16). Jesus gave the Apostles the Spirit and sent them with the commission to forgive sins. They took His command seriously. When He gave this authority, He gave them the Spirit (He breathed upon them) as He had promised. The Spirit remains in Christ’s Church forever and His authority lasts forever.
Paul tells how he was given the power to forgive sins from Jesus: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ (2 Cor 2:10) and All this is from God, who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us this ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). The Apostles’ power to forgive sins didn’t come from themselves, it came from God. Paul continues: So we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20). Christ gave to His Church to power to forgive and retain sins.
The book of James tells us: Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests (Greek presbuteros) of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man; and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he be in sins they shall be forgiven him. Confess therefore your sins one to another; and pray one for another, that you may be saved (James 5: 14-16). The word presbuteros, often translated “elders,” is origin for the English word “priest”. Our word “priest” comes through the German word “priester”. Look up “priest” in any dictionary and it will give this Greek origin. Whenever we see the word “therefore” in the Bible we have to look at what is before it to see what it is there for. Notice that the confession of sins was to occur only after the priests were called.
In the early Church both confession and penance were public. As Christianity became accepted, and was no longer persecuted, it was necessary to change to private confession to protect the privacy of the person confessing. Confessional boxes were added later, in the West, to ensure even more privacy.
When Paul came to Ephesus, believers confessed their sins: Many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices (Acts 19:18). Why would these believers (they were already Christians) confess their sins in the presence of the Apostles if it were enough just to pray to God?
Why did these first century Christians, who were dying for their faith, need the sacrament of confession and some feel we don’t today? Are we more holy than they were?
Going to a priest is going directly to Christ
Paul wrote: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ (2 Cor 2:10). Paul did not forgive sins of himself, but in the person of Christ. The Greek text says "en prosopo Christou." This is where we get the Latin term in persona Christae to describe how the priest is able to act as Christ to us. When we go to a priest to have our sins forgiven we are going to Christ. The priest is acting “in the person of Christ.”
When we become Christians we become part of a family or household (1 Tim 3:15), the Church. The idea of “me and Jesus” is foreign to scripture. Christians are part of a body, for by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body (1 Cor 12:13). Paul compares Christians to the parts of a body. Sin not only offends God, but also hurts the body. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it (1 Cor 12:26). No Christian can say that he doesn’t need the other members, just Christ. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”, nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor 12:21). Christ gave authority to His Church. The priests are the hands, the feet, the eyes of Christ. No one would say, “My feet are wearing shoes, but I am not.” We also cannot say going to a member of the body is not going to Christ. Jesus gave to Peter individually (Matt 16:19) and to the Apostles as a group (Matt 18:18) the power to bind and loose. The Church has the authority to reconcile the members to the Church. Jesus told the Apostles, “but if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one become to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17). Notice the strong language: “EVEN to the CHURCH”.
The sacraments don’t take away from Jesus’ mediation, they apply it to us
Why go to a man if Christ is our one mediator? Paul writes: I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men: For kings, and for all who are in high stations; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all piety and chastity. or this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus: Who gave Himself a redemption for all, a testimony in due times. Whereunto I am appointed a preacher and an apostle, (I say the truth, I lie not), a doctor of the gentiles in truth and faith. I will therefore that men pray in every place, lifting up pure hands, without anger or contention (1 Timothy 2:1-8). In context Paul is saying that we are able to offer prayers, supplications, intercessions, etc. for all men since we are in the one mediator, Christ Jesus. Many begin reading this at verse 5 ignoring the context. One doesn’t begin a new thought with the word “for.” Jesus uses men to bring other men to Him. God used men to pen the Bible. He uses men to preach. Not many of us become Christians as Saint Paul did—we don’t get knocked down by a light in the desert. Instead we become Christians through God's use of men—men who preach, men who publish Bibles, etc. Paul heard the gospel from Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus. But even Paul had to go to the church to be baptized and have his sins washed away (Acts 22:10-16) and to be ordained (Gal 2:9). No one baptizes himself. Why is that, if we do not need to go to any man?
The Bible tells of how men are used to bring salvation: For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us: so also by Christ doth our comfort abound. Now whether we be in tribulation, it is for your exhortation and salvation: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation: or whether we be exhorted, it is for your exhortation and salvation, which worketh the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer (2 Cor 5:5-6) and Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Tim 4:16).
It is necessary for us to confess our sins
Scripture declares that If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity (1 John 1:20). This verse makes no sense if all of our sins (past and future) are forgiven when we become Christians. When we become Christians, through baptism, we are cleansed of all “past sins” (2 Peter 1:9).
When a person first realizes that he has sinned and he is sorry for that sin, he should then pray to God for forgiveness. If the sin is a serious one, the person should also go to a priest as soon as possible. Jesus never told anyone to go and pray to the Father until they feel forgiven. When the woman was caught in adultery by the scribes, Jesus said: Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more (John 8:11). She needed to hear it and so do we. We may feel that we are sorry for our sins, but we are not to judge our own hearts. Paul writes to the Corinthians: neither do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of any thing, yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me, is the Lord. Therefore judge not before the time; until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise (1 Cor 4:3-5).
We need to trust Jesus
Some will say that they don’t need the sacrament of confession. Just a few verses after John describes Jesus’ institution of the the sacrament of confession, he states: Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing, you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31). We need to believe all that scripture teaches is there for our salvation. Jesus did not do any unnecessary things. Jesus and the Apostles knew what they were doing. Jesus established Christianity, no one has the right to change it. For anyone to say otherwise is to say they know better than Jesus. Why do most people not doubt that the Apostles were able to heal people or that Peter raised a dead man? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise and take up your pallet and walk’? (Mark 2:9).
Are you a born-again Bible-Believer?
Do Catholics add to the Finished work on Christ by saying some have to go to Purgatory to have their sins forgiven?