New Believer's Series (18) — Governmental Forgivenessby Watchman Nee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
There are at least four different kinds of forgiveness in the Bible. We will give a different name to each of them: First, there is eternal forgiveness. Second, there is instrumental forgiveness. Third, there is forgiveness in fellowship. Fourth, there is governmental forgiveness. If a believer desires to run a straight course in his spiritual pursuit, he must learn the meaning of God's governmental forgiveness. We will first distinguish the differences between these kinds of forgiveness, and then we will speak about governmental forgiveness.
Let us call the forgiveness that comes with our salvation God's eternal forgiveness. This is the forgiveness spoken of by the Lord Jesus in Luke 24:47: "That repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." This is eternal forgiveness. The forgiveness spoken of in Romans 4:7 is eternal forgiveness as well.
This forgiveness is called eternal forgiveness because once God forgives our sins, He forgives them eternally. God casts our sins into the depths of the sea and the abyss. He no longer sees or remembers our sins. This is the forgiveness we obtained at the time we were saved. The moment we believe in the Lord Jesus, we are forgiven of all our sins; the Lord removes all of our sins, and we are left with no trace of sin before God. This is called eternal forgiveness.
God often tells man directly, "I forgive you." But often He declares His forgiveness through the church: "God has forgiven your sins." Therefore, the Bible shows us another kind of forgiveness which we call instrumental forgiveness. John 20:22-23 says, "And when He had said this, He breathed into them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. Whosever sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; and whosever sins you retain, they are retained." In sending the Holy Spirit to His church, the Lord charged the church to be His representative on earth. The church has become His vessel. Forgiveness is now granted through the church. This is called instrumental forgiveness. However, we must be careful not to fall into the kind of forgiveness taught by the Catholics. We must realize that the basis of instrumental forgiveness is the Lord's breathing into the church and saying to the church, "Receive the Holy Spirit." After the church receives the Holy Spirit, it has the power to retain and forgive sins. The church can declare that the sins of certain ones are retained, while the sins of others are forgiven. The church has such authority because it is under the authority of the Holy Spirit. The Lord breathed into the disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit!" After this He said, "Whosever sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; and whosever sins you retain, they are retained." This is a kind of indirect forgiveness. In this forgiveness God forgives men through the church; the church acts as His channel.
In preaching the gospel, we often find sinners who are awakened to their sin by our word. We bring them to the Lord, and they confess that they are sinners. They pray for forgiveness with weeping and tears of repentance, and they receive the Lord Jesus with a sincere heart. But they do not know the meaning of forgiveness because they are heathens. At such times, it is good for a representative of the church to stand up and say to them, "God has forgiven you of your sins!" This will save them much suffering and anxious searching. If a person has truly believed, you may say to him, "You have accepted the Lord today. You can thank Him because He has forgiven you of your sins!" If the church cannot forgive or retain men's sins, it has no way to decide who may be baptized. Why do you accept one candidate for baptism while refusing another? Why do you receive some for the bread-breaking meeting while refusing others? This is an exercise of the authority that the church has received from the Lord. It proclaims who is saved and who is not, and whose sins are forgiven and whose are retained. Such declarations must not be made in a light way. Those whose sins are forgiven are forgiven, while those whose sins are retained have their sins retained. Such a statement must be made under the authority of the Holy Spirit. John 20:22 says, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Verse 23 continues, "Whosever sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; and whosever sins you retain, they are retained." Only when the church has received the Holy Spirit and is under the authority of the Holy Spirit can it act as an instrument to God. Only after the Lord has made a man an instrument can he proclaim to a sinner, "You are forgiven of your sins!" or to another sinner, "Your sins are not forgiven!" This is the second kind of forgiveness described in the Bible. In this forgiveness, God does not forgive directly; He does it through the church. Eternal forgiveness is God's direct forgiveness of men. Instrumental forgiveness is God's proclamation of forgiveness through man.
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