If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 21:23)

No doubt you recall the story of the paralytic who was lowered down to Jesus from the rooftop. Before healing the poor fellow, Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven. That statement created quite a stir.  “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” many asked. It was a legitimate question, as no man alive can blot out the sins of another.

Certainly, I can forgive someone when they sin against me…

But I cannot abolish anyone of all

Find freedom through forgiveness

Find freedom through forgiveness

sin. They need God’s forgiveness for that. And He is perfectly willing. He sent His Son for this reason!

The passage above has to do with creating an environment of forgiveness.

Jesus had just commissioned the apostles to go out into a hostile world where they’d be despised, beaten, tortured and imprisoned. All because of the gospel! A gospel based largely on the idea of forgiveness! That we need it in order to be saved!

The only possible way the apostles could preach this radical kind of gospel was to extend the very forgiveness they received from the Lord.

Yes, Jesus was instructing them not to play the martyr, but to create an environment of forgiveness by forgiving those bent on persecuting them. How else would they be reached?

The word used in the original for forgive was aphiemi. It means: to leave or forsake. When we read of Jesus calling James and John, it says, “They left their nets and followed Him.” In the original, it was ‘aphiemi’ where we read ‘left’ (or ‘forsook’ in older translations of the Bible).

The Greek term ‘alphiemi’ is also used in the context of divorce, as when a man forsakes his wife. When we are sinned against, our tendency is to divorce ourselves from the sinner and retain their sin. Jesus commands us to do the exact opposite. That’s what the cross was all about. It represents the great divorce, separating sinners from their sin that their souls might be retained.

Some might say, “I forgive, but I don’t forget.”

That’s the world talking. Biblically speaking, it doesn’t even make sense. True forgiveness keeps no record of wrong. It’s all about letting go, as if that person had never sinned against you. You’re totally divorced from the offense, but never the offender.

Jesus taught, “If you retain the sins of any they are retained.

Now, that word ‘retain’ is also very interesting. When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene after He had risen, scripture tells us that she clung to His feet. It was as if she never wanted to lose him. She held on for dear life. The word ‘krateo’ was used to describe Mary’s grip on Jesus. That’s the expression Jesus used for holding onto sin, where we have ‘retain’ in our English Bibles.

Holding onto Jesus is good thing. That’s what we should be doing. But holding onto Him and sin at the same time is foolish. Eventually, one is forsaken for the other. Unless we let go of sin we’ll lose our grip on the very One who forgives us. And that would be a terrible sin!

Perhaps you’ve seen those programs where people hold onto stuff – lot’s of stuff. One such show is called ‘Hoarders’ where real people pile up real crud: everything from Taco Bell wrappers, milk cartons and moldy donuts from years gone by. Until they get cleaned out, these homes are nothing but trash retainers. They also serve as a great visual of those who retain sin. Their life becomes a cluttered mess.

Remember, we are the temple of God’s Holy Spirit. We must keep the crud from piling up, lest we crowd Him out!

That’s the real danger of retaining sin. Should you hold onto it, it will surely have a hold on you. It will rule over you. It will poison you.

It will crowd the Lord out.

The last thing Jesus wants is bitter people representing Him, sharing a gospel of forgiveness. That’s a hard sell. If you want a powerful testimony, one that will attract others to Jesus, practice forgiveness! Extend to others the forgiveness you’ve received in Him. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your life and the lives of others.

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