A gracEmail subscriber asks if is right to confess our sins to another human being, and whether a believer who hears our confession can offer forgiveness in the name of Christ.
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It is true that no mere mortal has power to forgive sins, as Jesus’ enemies correctly observed (Mk. 2:5-7). However, Jesus authorized and empowered his people — in ever-widening circles — to speak forgiveness in his name, beginning with Peter, then all the Apostles, and finally the whole church (Matt. 16:18-19; John 20:21-23; Matt. 18:15-20). James later encouraged and affirmed the proper exercise of this ministry, both by recognized representatives of the believing community, and also by any individual believer (James 5:14-16). “Your sins have been forgiven you for his name’s sake,” John boldly promises, and we can repeat that good word with assurance as often as helpful and needed (1 John 2:12).
This is all possible because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). Through Jesus Christ’s faithful obedience, culminating in his death on the cross, “there resulted life to all” (Rom. 5:18). He was and is our representative, our high priest, our stand-in and our proxy. His living was our living and his dying was our dying. We look at Jesus and see the Father; the Father looks at us and sees Jesus. Jesus endured what we deserve; we enjoy what Jesus merited. By his action and by his passion, by what he did and by what was done to him, by his doing and his dying, we are set right with God fully and forever.
In liturgical churches, the gathered congregation regularly reads together a common confession of sin and asks God’s forgiveness, to which another believer responds with an affirmation of pardon. Many gracEmail subscribers have never enjoyed that experience. There is great blessing in saying aloud, “I have sinned in thought, word and deed,” then hearing someone say the words, “You are forgiven for Jesus Christ’s sake.” To help congregations that do not already experience this blessing, I have put together a variety of responsive Scripture readings, each including a statement of confession, of pardon, and of praise