Jesus Christ and the Forgiveness of Sins

Jesus went about preaching as a prophet of repentance and an extravagant forgiver of sin. On the night before he died, Jesus said that the pouring out of his blood was for “the forgiveness of sins.”

But why is Jesus so concerned with sin? Why does he go about forgiving sins, even handing on to his Church the power to do it? It can be very hard for a modern person to understand what this means.

Sin is not a scientific category. We cannot measure it with instruments or treat it with medicines, and we tend to think only things that can be measured and treated in this way are real. If something is wrong, we seek a therapy for it—whether that therapy is medical or social or psychological.

But sin is not that kind of problem. To sin, in the biblical sense, is to act unjustly. It is to fail to give to another what is due. Because we are social creatures, and cannot exist or find happiness on our own, such behavior damages a person at the very root. It damages our ability to share life with others—most especially with God—and for creatures who need others, this is a kind of death.

What we owe to other people depends on our relationship to them, their needs, our needs, and various other factors. At the very least, we owe other people their basic human rights, but for some people, like our parents, we owe much more than the minimum.

What we owe to God, on the other hand, is absolute: we owe God everything because everything we have is a gift from him and because he is the rightful master of all creation. What is more, God is perfectly good, just, merciful, and loving, and it is wrong to mistreat one who always treats us with goodness, justice, mercy, and love.

The most common way we sin against God is to set our hearts on things that are less than God while we refuse to give our hearts to God, the giver of life who is all good and deserving of all our love.

There is no therapy or medical intervention that will fix things when we have failed to give God or our fellow humans what is due to them. Sin, understood this way, is not a problem merely of the self, but of relationship to others.

The cure for sin is to repair relationships. The one who has done harm must repent, and the one harmed must forgive. Because Jesus is God made man, he can forgive every sin. He can offer divine forgiveness, and he wants to do it. He does so continually throughout his public life, even instructing his followers, as we said, to go on forgiving sin in his name after his death.

This forgiveness is key to his overall mission, which is to restore friendship between God and humanity: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

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