Sin: Bound and Loosed

Do you ever read verses like this and wonder what Jesus means:

“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:23)

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)

Both of these passages have to do with forgiveness. So how does our forgiveness on earth have power in Heaven? And what does that really mean?

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Dolores Ochoa/AP/Shutterstock (10758667a) Married couple Julio Mora Tapia, 110, and Waldramina Quinteros, 104, both retired teachers, pose for a photo at their home in Quito, Ecuador, . The couple is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the oldest married couple in the world, because of their ages. They have been married for 79 years Oldest Married Couple, Quito, Ecuador – 28 Aug 2020

The word, “loosed” means to forgive, send away, release. When we forgive sin here on earth, it’s forgiven, done, gone, sent away. That is the picture of the scapegoat in the Old Testament. One goat was sacrificed, bearing the sin of the people. A second goat was “presented alive before the LORD to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat” (Leviticus 16:10) Ultimately, Jesus would bear the price of our sin so that we might be set free, forgiven.

These words from Jesus are in the context of confronting a brother who sins against you and the story of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18). According to Jesus, it is important to confront the individual who sinned against you privately. In abusive relationships, this may simply be a cry for help or pleading to stop sinful, destructive words and behavior. If the one sinning does not listen, it is important to go with one or two witnesses and show him his fault. If that doesn’t get his attention, the church needs to know. And if he still refuses, he is to be treated as an unbeliever–in need of evangelism and transformation, not discipleship.

So then, Jesus says, that whatever is bound on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever is loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven…. And the parable of the unforgiving servant follows. So what does it mean?

If someone is confronted with sin–a debt, a violation, failure to love–and they do not listen, they do not change–then our behavior changes. We no longer treat them as one of our own. They are not privy to secrets, decision-making, or responsibility. This is not unforgiveness because they have not asked for forgiveness to begin with. They simply want things to continue going their way. In their mind, they have not sinned. They are not under conviction.

There is no way to extend forgiveness when sin is not acknowledged. The only way forgiveness is withheld is if it is never sought. The wound, the sin, the destructive effects remain exposed, open, raw, visible. That is what prevents forgiveness.

If, however, an individual is convicted of his sin and responds with sorrow–not sorrow for the consequences, but sorrow for the pain, loss and destruction brought on by his actions–and zeal to restore and make things right, we are have two options. If he takes responsibility for his sin, is willing to suffer the consequences and avenge the wrong, we are called to forgive the way God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). This is the picture of repentance; of saving faith, of the gate to salvation. This is the path of every believer in Jesus Christ. Refusing to forgive in the face of repentance reveals that we are not forgiven ourselves.*

So, then, if an individual is not forgiven here on earth, it’s because forgiveness was not sought and repentance was not actualized. If that sin is not paid for and loosed on earth by those who experienced it, it is not forgiven in Heaven. It has never been owned, confessed, forsaken.

Since our forgiveness of others is a picture of God’s forgiveness of us, it bears the price of Jesus Christ’s blood; His torturous death, separation from His Father, and payment for our sin. The cost of forgiveness is great.

“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:23)

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)

*Then summoning him, his master *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his master, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he would repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32-35)

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