Let’s spend a couple of posts talking about Jesus and forgiveness. Many Christians frequently point to the words from St. Paul in Ephesians 2:8-10
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.
They take those words to mean that there will be no judgment of Christians actions on that final day. Everyone who has faith will be automatically passed through the pearly gates no questions asked. They say our sins will not be held against us. Let’s get into the red letters on that issue. First let’s look at where Jesus forgives our sins, or maybe not! ( I have underlined some of the words below to point them out for further discussion.)
“‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
If there is no judgment then not forgiving someone their sins has no meaning. It would be the same thing as having a law but with absolutely not enforcement. This too is meaningless.
- The first verse is when Jesus was talking to Paul after he had stricken him down on the road to Damascus. Jesus’ intent here was to teach us his ways and to guide us away from Satan (the darkness). I include it here as what most traditionally think about when they think of forgiveness. Jesus wants us to follow the light (Him) so that he can forgive us our sins.
- The second and third verses above is after Jesus’ resurrection and most believe he was talking to the eleven apostles. He gave them the power to forgive sins or not to forgive sins.
- The fourth verse is talking against the Holy Spirit (we recently covered this in our study of the Holy Spirit).
If we take Jesus’ word literally then just what does it mean when he says your sins are not forgiven or that you have not turned from darkness to the light? Does it mean that we are denied heaven? Does it mean that we will suffer some consequences of our acts after admittance to heaven? These are the types of questions seem to have many meanings to different people. I’m pretty sure that this is one of the reasons that the Catholics have invented purgatory. Although purgatory, like much of other Christian doctrine, is not actually in the bible it does give an explanation to the question of not forgiving sins.
As to what I believe on this issue, I’m just not sure but I don’t think I want to hang my eternal existence on not taking them literally. In this case I guess I am a literalist. Next time we will look at where Jesus talks about us forgiving others and the consequences that might entail.