Forgiving Others

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Could you help me understand and apply John 20:23 in context?

John 20:19-23 concerns the authority of the believer here on earth. As in other passages in the Gospels, Jesus sends out the disciples as he was sent by the Father (John 20:21). When Jesus sent out the 12, he gave them authority over sickness, demons, and to preach the gospel (Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:13-15; 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-2).

Here in John 20, Jesus performs the same action by breathing the Holy Spirit on the disciples, giving them authority by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Some people believe this is John’s approach to Pentecost, which we see later in Acts 2.

But I disagree with that. I believe this is the place where the disciples can be considered saved. We received the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). And then immediately after he breathes the Holy Spirit on them, he sends them out as his apostles. First they are saved, then they are given their mission.

After receiving the Holy Spirit in salvation, Jesus also gives them the authority that he has from the Father. He does this in the form of talking about forgiveness. But other passages in the New Testament give them authority through binding and loosing (Matthew 16:19; 18:18).

God basically gives Christians the same authority Jesus had on earth. One of the examples of this authority is that God agrees with the decision of the disciple in forgiveness. When they forgive others who have wronged them, God forgives them. When they don’t forgive others, God allows that to stand in the spiritual realm.

But there’s also another principle at work that we must remember. While this power is given to Jesus’ disciples, Jesus has also told us a principle about forgiveness that if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:24-25).

I must be clear that we are not talking about the forgiveness of a person’s sins by God. He does not allow disciples to decide his forgiveness of a person’s sins toward him. So the authority to forgive we are speaking of here only refers to when you are wronged and forgive that offense toward you.

The authority we demonstrate from Christ and the Father has its limits. While we have the power to bind and loose on earth, that authority being matched in heaven, if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us.

When we use our authority in Christ, it is attached to our relationship with him. It is also attached to his reputation. For instance, we cannot use our authority in Christ to do things Christ would not do. This would be using his name and reputation in a way that he would never permit.

Forgiveness of others is only one example of how we can use our authority in Christ. But it comes with the added issue of forgiving others instead of holding a grudge. So John 20:23 demonstrates the principle of authority of the believer in the area of forgiveness.

Only Jesus can forgive sins (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Paul says in 1 Timothy that Jesus is the only mediator between God and people. And the authority he gives us to forgive others he agrees with from heaven.

It’s almost like a check that must be signed by two individuals to make it valid. We sign the check of forgiveness and then Jesus signs it in heaven in agreement. Then the forgiveness takes place.

But we are required to know the whole counsel of the Word of God so that we understand we cannot use the authority Christ gives us unless it is in relationship with him and within the bounds of his reputation and what he would do.

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