21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21–23, NKJV)
Following His resurrection, Jesus Christ commissioned His apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). According to John’s account of this assignment, Jesus sent them into the world even as the Father had sent Him (Jno. 17:18; Heb. 3:1). The Father gave the Son the word of everlasting life to speak (Jno. 12:48-50). His apostles, who were sent into the world with the good news of God’s salvation, were guided by the Holy Spirit “into all truth” (Jno. 16:13). The word which the Holy Spirit revealed to them contained why, how, and when sins are forgiven and retained. The forgiveness and the retention of sins is not arbitrary, but available to all (Acts 10:34-35). A freewill decision to believe and obey must be made upon hearing the good news that Jesus is Christ. Those who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins are forgiven (Acts 2:36-41; 3:19). Those who do not believe and obey the gospel call to be saved remain lost in their sins. The gospel saves the lost, yet, many will not believe it and obey it, therefore, their sins are retained. The decision to believe and obey the gospel to be forgiven continues to be the most important decision a person will ever make (Acts 2:21, 37-38, 40-41). Will your sins be forgiven, or retained?
12 Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. 13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:12–13, NKJV)
It is vital we understand our transgressions so we can repent, be forgiven, and guard against continuing to practice them. God’s word identifies our sins, converts the soul, enlightens our eyes, warns us against iniquity, and assures reward to those who keep His commands (Psa. 19:7-11). God’s word helps us avoid “secret faults.” By learning His truth we are helped to perceive sins otherwise hidden from our consciousness. Furthermore, we are warned not to try to hide our sins, because secret sins are not secret to God (Psa. 90:8). “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). Understanding our errors through God’s word also protects us from “presumptuous sins.” Willful, high-handed sin is tantamount to rebellion against God (Deut. 1:43). David did not want sin to rule him, either by hiding it or by arrogantly committing it. His desire was to be blameless (upright) and innocent, cleansed by God of his transgressions. Similarly, Christians must not be ruled by sin (Rom. 6:12-15). We died to sin when we were baptized into Christ’s death (Rom. 6:3-4). If Christians continue to practice sin, whether by hiding it or by arrogantly rebelling against God’s will, the result will be eternal death (Rom. 6:1-2, 21-23).
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. (Acts 9:9–11, NKJV)
An important question arises from the aftermath of Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8). Saul asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” and was told to “go into the city, and you will be told what you must do,” to which he complied (Acts 9:6-8). Here is the question: If Saul was saved when Jesus appeared to him on the road, why did Ananias ask him, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord?” (Acts 22:16) The answer is obvious. After three days of blindness, fasting, and praying, Saul was still in need of his sins being cleansed. Although fasting, Saul’s repentance was not all he needed to be forgiven. Although praying, Saul’s prayers did not constitute “calling on the name of the Lord” to be saved. However, when his faith compelled Saul to arise and be baptized, his sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus (Rom. 6:3). This is how sinners are saved today. Not by miracles. Not by faith alone, repentance alone, prayer alone, or baptism alone. Do you have the faith to do all Jesus commands so your sins will be washed away?
30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 18:30–31, NKJV)
We all need to learn to apologize when we have been wrong. The simple truth is that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). We need to seek forgiveness for our sins against God and against others. To accomplish this we must learn to repent of our sins. Only by genuine repentance will we turn from our transgressions and avoid the ruin sin causes. God told the house of Israel to throw away their sins by changing their hearts. That is what repentance is all about – changing the heart. We must get a “new heart and a new spirit” – one that turns away from all our sins. Do more than say you are sorry for your sins. Repent and turn from your sins so that you can be forgiven and escape eternal death.
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15, NKJV)
The sin under consideration in this verse is personal in nature (“against you”). Its private nature is necessarily implied in the instruction Jesus gives, “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” The sin is not generally known, and is to be privately discussed. Christ’s command also implies the one who sinned may not even know he has sinned against his brother, since Jesus said to “tell him his fault…” The manner of this initial discussion is informative and persuasive. That is, the sinner needs to “hear” that he has sinned, as well as how to remedy it through repentance (Acts 8:22). Damage is done when private sins are made public. Gossip, backbiting and rumor-mongering may begin from a failure to keep private sins, private. Remember, the goal is to “seek the one that is straying,” not slay him because he has wandered from the Shepherd (Matt. 18:12).
19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19–20, NKJV)
This Bible passage enjoins upon faithful Christians the task of rescuing a struggling, sinning Christian from spiritual death. It forever exposes and opposes the false teaching of “once saved, always saved.” Here, the soul that needs saving is a Christian who: (1) Has wandered from the truth. We must walk in the truth to be secure in our salvation (Jno. 10:27); (2) Needs turning back. The person is headed in the wrong, spiritual direction; His present way is “error.” You see, there really is only one way that leads to life (Jno. 14:6); (3) Has sinned. The person is “a sinner,” “in error” and in “death.” He/she is lost. You see, doctrine (teaching) affects salvation. False doctrine is error; a wandering from the truth. Wandering from the truth into error is a real danger. When it happens, the spiritually strong must become first responders, trying to save a soul from death (Gal. 6:1). In what more worthy endeavor can you participate? “He who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30).