“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” John 20:21-23
To better understand what Jesus said at the last here is found translated in the New King James as:
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:23 NKJV
After the Holy Spirit entered into the disciples, Jesus told them these words. They alone were now wholly responsible for their part in the equation of forgiveness. Notice how Jesus said if they were to forgive the sins of anyone, those sins were forgiven them. Those people would be forgiven, and receive the full pardon for those individual sins, free to proceed openly within the relationship between them and the disciples, which was good, because then, with fellowship restored, spiritual growth could occur, as well as initial salvation possibly, and that was what Jesus wanted for them, and for us.
Now look at the flip side of the forgiveness equation. Whatever sins of anyone they retained, they were retained. It’s written that way in both translations. What exactly does that mean? Well, it means that when we are unwilling to forgive someone their sins, those sins become a snare to us To better explain it, I’ll use an worldly piece of advice that I don’t like, because it is not of God, nor is it what God expects from His children.
“Forgive, but never forget.”
You’ve heard it, and it’s basic meaning is that you shouldn’t subject yourself to the same type of thing from a person over and over, thus, you are not to forget while you forgive. That is not forgiveness.
That is merely the appearance of forgiveness. If we become unwilling to let something completely go in the process of forgiving, then what we are doing is keeping one eye open for the repeat occurrence. We’re expecting them to do it again, and in the expectation of it, we are not truly believing they have turned away from it. We believe they have not truly repented, nor are sorry, and that they are not genuine in this. Therefore, since we don’t believe they have repented, nor do we apparently believe they are capable of it, then we haven’t forgiven them. In this unforgiveness, having held those sins against them, it is we who retain them. All sin is against God, and God deals with us on a One to one basis, so their sins being ultimately forgiven relies on their salvation. However, if we don’t let it go, the thought of that person doing it again will fester within us and create bitterness toward them, which ultimately hinders our ability to love them.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40
And it doesn’t even matter if they ask for our forgiveness or not. It doesn’t matter if they do continue to trespass against us. Forgiveness means that we are to release it and believe that they will not come against us again, because otherwise, we entrap ourselves even when they do nothing.
Which is why, when asked by Peter about how many times he should forgive his brother’s trespasses (Matt 18:21), Jesus said this:
“Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Matthew 18:22-35
You see, when we truly repent, God is faithful to forgive us. He sent Christ, after all, to show us His heart for us in sacrificing His Only Begotten Son. God, in His righteousness, and under the Blood of Jesus, forgives us all of our sins, and there are a vast multitude of them in every one of us. Not only does He forgive them, He forgets them. (Jer 31:34) That is the heart of God. It isn’t “forgive never forget”. It’s forgive and forget. So, what is that small trespass against us by one individual compared to the multitude we’ve committed against God? So what if they do it again? How many times do we repeat our mistakes and turn back to God and confess them again and again?
One last thought on this, because it was spoken this way by Jesus in the passage above, and given to the disciples when He gave the Holy Spirit, I should share where this is found in one other familiar place of note. It is in the prayer model we all have prayed and know by heart:
“Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
In earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil:
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Matthew 6:9-13
Don’t let the memory of the wrongs eat at you any longer, brothers and sisters. I am writing this to myself, as well. We must let it all go and leave it all behind. Look up to the Father, and forgive every trespass, like He does. Let Jesus’ Blood, which covers your trespasses, cover theirs against you. Let His Love flow into you, and through you onto others. …all others. And when we are the trespassers, let us repent quickly, and strive to be more Christ-like, turning again to the Father for forgiveness and guidance.
The Lord bless and keep you, brethren.