I was once talking to a Protestant about forgiveness of sin. He was telling me that he had the power to forgive sin. I was a little awe struck. I told him that he did in fact have that power. I said to him, “if I call you a jackass, then have a change of heart and ask for your forgiveness, you could in fact forgive me for my indiscretion.” And that is the truth. Christ told us that the father would forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Christ taught us the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” So my Protestant friend’s accumulated sins could be forgiven if he forgave me for my rude remarks. My Protestant friend had a buddy sitting next to him. I then asked my Protestant friend, “if I sleep with your buddy’s wife, can you forgive me of my sin.” He was dumbfounded. My response was “I think not.” My Protestant friend had no transgression committed against him by me. My transgression was now against his buddy. How could he forgive a sin in which he was totally removed? He would not have even known about my adulteress relationship with his buddy’s wife unless someone told him. My protestant friend does not hold the power of binding and loosening, he does not hold the keys to heaven and he is not a successor with the authority and power of the apostles and disciples. He cannot forgive my sins committed against others.
The question then becomes “how do we ask for forgiveness of sins?” Since the Protestant heresy 500 years ago, Calvin and Luther did away with 1500 years of Catholic tradition and proclaimed that man does not need a priest for forgiveness of sin but can ask God directly for forgiveness. According to this heresy, the sinner needs to just ask God directly for forgiveness, God forgives in a split second and you can go about your business. Contrition and satisfaction play no part in a Protestant’s scheme of pardon for sin, only confession to and absolution from God.
Must a sinner go through a human intercessor to receive pardon for his sins? James 5:16 says “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, for the healing of your souls.” This statement does not mean that you only confess your sins to the one you may have offended. It is right and good to ask forgiveness from all those you have sinned against. If I steal from someone and later realize my fault, I should ask the offended, the person I stole from, for his forgiveness. But stealing is also a sin against God. Theft is a violation of God’s command to love your neighbor as yourself. So you must also ask God for His forgiveness. Do I need a priest to confess and ask forgiveness of my sin or can I ask God on the spot for forgiveness? Let’s look at what the bible has to say.
The question becomes “where in the New Testament does God say that He forgives sin only by asking Him directly?” There is only one verse in the New Testament, James 5:16, that tells Christians that we should confess our sins to one another. And there are no verses in the New Testament that tell us to confess our sins directly to God. Here are verses from the New Testament regarding confession.
Sin is with us; if we deny that, we are cheating ourselves; it means that truth does not dwell in us. No, it is when we confess our sins that he forgives us our sins, ever true to his word, ever dealing right with us, and all our wrong-doing is purged away. 1 John 1:9-10
Many believers came forward, confessing their evil practices and giving a full account of them. Acts 19:18.
God has shut his eyes to these passing follies of ours; now, he calls upon all men, everywhere, to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day when he will pronounce just judgement on the whole world. Acts 17:30.
The disciples saw the Lord, and were glad. 21 Once more Jesus said to them, Peace be upon you; I came upon an errand from my Father, and now I am sending you out in my turn. 22 With that, he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit; 23 when you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven, when you hold them bound, they are held bound. John 20:20-23
When you stand praying, forgive whatever wrong any man has done you; so that your Father who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions; 26 if you do not forgive, your Father who is in heaven will not forgive your transgressions either. Mark 11:25-26.
And now, to convince you that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins while he is on earth (here he spoke to the palsied man), Rise up, take thy bed with thee, and go home. 7 And he rose up, and went back to his house, 8 so that the multitudes were filled with awe at seeing it, and praised God for giving such powers to men. Matthew 9:6-8.
Repent, Peter said to them, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to have your sins forgiven; then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 38.
Thou art Peter, and it is upon this rock that I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; 19 and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19.
It seems to me that there are two requirements for forgiveness of our individual sin. First, you must forgive the sins committed against you by your neighbor. If your neighbor stole from you or coveted your wife or goods, you must forgive them in person if you can. If not in person, then you must forgive them within your soul in front of God. The second step is that you must confess your sins committed by you against God and your neighbor. What type of sin must you confess? All sin- adultery, pornography, homosexuality, gluttony, wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, and envy. This confession, according to James, must be to another human being. Why confess to another person and not to God directly? Because John said that Christ (God) breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples (not just the 12 apostles} and commanded that “when you (the disciples) forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven, when you hold them bound, they are held bound.” Notice that Christ gave his disciples the power to forgive sin. The multitudes praised God for giving such powers to men. God knows when you are repentant and contrite, especially after you sacrifice. This sacrifice or penance provides satisfaction for your sins. God is total love. He has no need for forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is automatic. God’s love flows to you not when He is disposed to do so but when you are prepared to receive. Just as faith without works is a dead faith, confession without repentance, contrition and satisfaction is not forgiveness.
Many Protestants will use Old Testament verses to hide behind their heresy and condemn Rome for its Popish display of authority. They continue to rebel to avoid the institution that Christ began through men on this earth. Jesus Christ gave men authority to absolve our sin with the consent and approval of our Father in Heaven. These men were the Apostles and Disciples of Christ who eventually became priests and bishops of the Catholic Church. The Old Testament, though it still has relevance, only hints at the sacrament that Christ would eventually establish. But why use Old Testament theology to justify your position of confessing your sins directly to God? Is it to justify your continued protestations?
Never shalt thou thrive by keeping sin hidden; confess it and leave it, if thou wouldst find pardon. Proverbs 28:13
At last I made my transgression known to thee, and hid my sin no longer; Fault of mine, said I, I here confess to the Lord; and with that, thou didst remit the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5
Have mercy on me, O God, as thou art ever rich in mercy; in the abundance of thy compassion, blot out the record of my misdeeds. 4 Wash me clean, cleaner yet, from my guilt, purge me of my sin, 5 the guilt which I freely acknowledge, the sin which is never lost to my sight. 6 Thee only my sins have offended; it is thy will I have disobeyed; thy sentence was deserved, and still when thou givest award thou hast right on thy side. 7 For indeed, I was born in sin; guilt was with me already when my mother conceived me. 8 But thou art a lover of faithfulness, and now, deep in my heart, thy wisdom has instructed me. 9 Sprinkle me with a wand of hyssop, and I shall be clean; washed, I shall be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:3-9.
So it must be, until they confess their sins and the sins of those fathers of theirs who rebelled against me and crossed me. 41 I must cross them still, condemning them to exile in a land that hates them, until those defiled hearts learn to be ashamed. Leviticus 26:40-42.
Master, listen to my voice; let but thy ears be attentive to the voice that calls on thee for pardon. 3 If thou, Lord, wilt keep record of our iniquities, Master, who has strength to bear it? 4 Ah, but with thee there is forgiveness; be thy name ever revered. Psalm 130:2-4.
Mercy, I cried, thou God of heaven, the strong, the great, the terrible! Thou who ever keepest thy gracious promises to the souls that love thee, and are true to thy commandments! 6 Let thy ears be attentive, thy eyes watching still; listen to the prayer I offer thee now, thy servant, interceding day and night for my fellow-servants, the men of Israel. Listen to the confession I make of our sins; they, the men of Israel, have sinned, I and my father’s race have sinned; 7 led away by false aims, we have neglected decree and observance and award of thine, enjoined on thy servant Moses. Nehemiah 1:5-7.
What these Old and New Testament quotes demonstrate is that we must repent and confess our sins. And since Christ’s appearance, we must confess them to each other. Do priests sin? Sure they do. Do priests go to confession? Sure they do. A Catholic priest is constantly confessing his sins to another Catholic priest. Each has his own personal confessor, even the Pope. They are following James’ command to confess sins to one another. I sometimes wonder if a Protestant’s sins are ever forgiven. Maybe their total depravity is the result of unforgiven sin. A priest grants absolution, not forgiveness. Only God can forgive sin but only after repentance, contrition and satisfaction. You must prepare yourself for this gift of forgiveness. Just as a response to an altar call will not save you, unrepentant and unconfessed sin to each other will never gain you forgiveness.