Penance: The Wrong Way to Relate to God

This video is the first in our series on Repentance. In this presentation, we learn why the Sacrament of Penance was opposed by Martin Luther in 1517 as the wrong way to relate to God. Listed below are some commonly raised questions about the Sacrament of Penance. If you have any questions are comments, please let us know and we’ll be glad to respond.

Questions and Answers:

Q. Is it wrong to confess our sins to a priest or pastor?

A. No. Absolutely not. The Bible clearly tells us, “So then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect. (James 5:16)”. Yet, there are certainly some sinful thoughts or deeds that many Christians may not feel safe confessing to a friend or fellow Christian. In these cases, it is perfectly legitimate to confess these things to a priest or pastor who is bound to confidentiality.

Q. If it is permissible to confess our sins to a priest or pastor, then what is wrong with confessing to a priest in the Sacrament of Penance?

A. This kind of confession is unbiblical because it views the priest as the Mediator between God and Man. In this view, the church priest assumes authority to “erase” sin. Yet, the bible tells us that ONLY Christ is the Mediator between God and man, “For there is One God and One Mediator between God and mankind – this is the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). The bible also tells us that Only Christ has the authority to erase sin, “(Only) the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10).

Q. John 20:23 says, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Doesn’t this indicate that the church has the authority to absolve or erase sin?

A. No. In Mark 2:5-12, Jesus forgave the sins of a paralyzed man. The Jewish religious leaders rebuked Jesus, and rightly stated that only God forgives sins. If they had been wrong about that, then Jesus would have corrected them. Instead, he affirms their claim, then states that he, being God, has the authority to forgive sins. He then heals the paralytic. In this event, Jesus makes it very evident that only God forgives sins. So, if this is true, then what is John 20:23 telling us? In John 20:23, King Jesus is preparing his people to be sent into all the world to proclaim the Good News that Messiah has come, that he has taken the penalty for sin, and that he has rescued his people from the curse of sin and death. As his representatives of Christ, they will pronounce to people that their sins are forgiven through Christ. So, King Jesus is not giving authority to the church to “forgive sin”, he is giving them the authority to proclaim the Gospel of Forgiveness as his ambassadors.

Q. Since it is painful, does’t the Mortification of the Flesh decrease sin?

A. No. It might make a person “behave” better, but it does nothing to change a sinful heart. Remember, the Lord doesn’t want mere moral behavior from his people. He wants to change our heart affections. A sinful heart doesn’t change because of physical suffering. In fact, it actually makes the heart bitter and angry. Romans 2:4 says that “It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 adds to this sentiment, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” So, it is the Lord’s love – his patience and his kindness – that changes the heart’s affections, not self-applied suffering.

Q. If a person dies without having opportunity to confess particular sins, doesn’t it make sense that a place like purgatory would be necessary to purify the soul from sin?

A. No. This kind of thinking does not understand the depth of King Jesus’ atonement for our sins. The bible teaches us that Jesus’ work on the Cross, erased our sins completely – past, present, and future. Psalm 103:12 tell us that through Christ, “The Lord removes our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west.” John 1:29 tells us that, “The Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world.” In Hebrews 8:12, the Lord says, “For I will forgive their wickedness, and will remember their sins no more.” Finally, Romans 8:1-2 completely settles the matter saying, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” So, with all of these things in mind, we can be certain that there is no need for the believer to purified further, in this life or the next. King Jesus’ forceful final words on the Cross confirm this truth. He said, “It is finished!”

2 thoughts on “Penance: The Wrong Way to Relate to God

  1. Comment and a question.
    I would never confess a sin to a church pastor as it usually results in gossip among elders and staff. Also it pretty much means you are disqualified from any kind of ministry in the future. I’ve read and seen enough cop/lawyer books/shows that I believe there is some security in knowing that confession booth statements are held in confidence. I don’t believe that the priest can absolve sins anymore than I believe a Protestant pastor will keep things private.

    Now the question: if God does indeed cast sins as far as the West is from the east, what the heck is the whole white thrown judgment about where all sins are revealed and held against you?

    1. Rod, there are two significant passages that reference the Great White Throne of Judgment:

      John 5:28, 29. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

      Revelation 20:11,12. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and the books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.

      The Great White Throne of Judgement is where God passes judgment on all sin and evil.

      Satan, demons, and those without Christ will be judged according to their works. However, Christian believers in Christ will be judged according to the perfect work of Christ.

      Immediately after, God creates Hell and casts Satan, Demons, death, hades, and those who reject Christ – into this eternal abyss. He then creates the new heaven and earth where all those who have trusted in Christ enjoy a sinless nature, an “un-cursed” earth, along with the visible, sovereign, and perfectly benevolent rule of Christ. The government shall be upon his shoulders.

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