Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John 20:23)
I have heard some say that this is speaking of the ability for believers to have the power/authority to either permit someone to be forgiven or remain under judgment for their sins. With the context being that the believer is representing God’s position to the sinners. This has never set well with me for a few reasons but the greatest of all is sin towards God has been forgiven through the blood of Jesus. It is true that many have not received forgiveness and therefore it is not beneficial to them, but none the less God has forgiven us of all sin.
What I have come to understand is in this saying Jesus is telling people that they need to forgive others so that they can be free from the power of the trespass against them to have influence in their lives. If we retain the sins of those who have trespassed against us, this lack of forgiving has the ability to manifest negatively in many ways in the believer’s life. I have heard testimony after testimony of when someone has forgiven someone else in their past about something that hurt them, how physical healing afterward has taken place. In forgiving others it is also easier to receive forgiveness from God and to believe it is so, which empowers us to live free from guilt, shame, condemnation and negative judgment. I have also seen people who struggle with addiction and other personality disorders, who upon forgiving people for the offenses committed against them, have received total healing and deliverance from these circumstances.
Forgiveness, or the remission of sin, is not something that actually takes place only on an intellectual level. Meaning that even if a person is aware of what happened and knows they are harboring ill will because of a circumstance, there is more than just saying someone is forgiven for the trespass, in order for it to truly be an act of forgiving and receive the benefits of forgiving others. Forgiveness must come from the heart, out of a genuine compassion for the other person, realizing the fact that in most cases they are just acting out of their hurts as well. Though it is also totally possible for one to feel trespassed against merely out of their own delusion, with the supposed offender being totally innocent.
Regardless of the source it is necessary to forgive others out of the same motivation as God, who has forgiven us, in order to truly experience the benefits of living a life free from the bondage of an unforgiving heart. Jesus is a prime example of this in that no matter how much he went through during his ministry, and especially just prior to going to the cross, he always had compassion towards those who persecuted him because he understood the influence in their lives which was driving this distorted perception of themselves. Stephen also in his last statement as he was being stoned to death, cried out for our Father to not hold this sin against them.
The ability to truly forgive someone, to separate a person’s value and identity from their actions, is an inherited trait from our Father. I believe this is why unforgiveness is so destructive because it enforces the perverted belief we have about ourselves causing us to have a corrupt perception of our values and identity. I truly believe that we can only experience the fullness of our relationship with God once we are totally free from the bondage of unforgiveness.