But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. – Matthew 9:6-8
Last week Pope Francis, considered liberal among traditional Catholics, issued a startling statement giving priests permission to grant forgiveness to repentant women who had undergone abortions.
The statement was startling to Catholics because those who participate in or receive abortions have, until now, been excommunicated. The statement was startling to Bible-believing evangelicals because of its ludicrousness.
Let’s play the bad news-good news game, and let’s start with the bad so we can end on a very positive note.
See, here’s the problem: Like any other person, a priest is able to forgive those who sin against him, but he is unable to issue pardon on behalf of God. That is God’s domain alone.
Some will argue that John 20:23 – a passage in which Jesus tells His apostles, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” – grants such authority to men. However, in looking at the context, we see several special circumstances.
First, the apostles had a historically unique relationship with God, one that granted them the right to sit on 12 thrones and judge the 12 tribes in the new heaven and new earth (Matthew 19:28). Second, they experienced a special infilling of the Holy Spirit for the occasion. Third, biblical scholars assert the verb tense used in the original Greek implies the apostles were not issuing forgiveness but asserting the forgiveness that God had already granted.
The Pharisees got little right, but when they said, “Only God can forgive sins!” (Luke 5:21), they actually nailed it.
The good news is abortion is not, and never has been, an unpardonable sin. This is a misconception at the hands of guilt-mongers and Scripture-twisters.
Because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and because “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10), we are all abortionists. What’s more, we are all fornicators. We are all liars. We are all thieves. We are all idolators. We are all adulterers. We are all murderers. We are all evil through and through.
So how is this good news?
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:2
It’s good news because Jesus paid it all. His perfect atonement paid the penalty for every sin – not just for some sins but all, and not just for some people but all. The only unpardonable sin is that final, eternally regrettable sin of dying without Christ.
Two Points in the Pope’s Favor
Yes, Pope Francis got it very wrong when he said priests could forgive, but let’s look for a minute at the two things he got very right.
Point 1: Abortion can be forgiven.
Point 2: Repentance is necessary.
God is ready to forgive your sin, whatever it is.
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. – Luke 5:32
Repent, therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out. – Acts 3:19
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. – Acts 20:21
Friend, do not ever look to man for what only God can give. Forgiveness is not found in a confessional. It is found at the feet of God. If you have not, it’s because you ask not. The Lord is far more gracious, merciful and compassionate than you or I can comprehend. Ask. Receive. Today.