Do We Have the Authority of Jesus to Forgive Someone’s Sin?

Woman praying. "And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." James 5:15

"Do We Have the Authority of Jesus to Forgive Someone's Sin?" by Steppes of Faith

“And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” James 5:15

I love listening to our local Christian radio stations. The music is so uplifting and encouraging. I also sometimes like to listen to their replays of church sermons at lunch time every day. Recently, a speaker was talking about the authority Jesus gave His disciples after His first post-resurrection appearance. In a nutshell, his message was that because the disciples had the authority to heal people and forgive sins, we too in this modern era have the authority to forgive sins.

Do we?

Now, I’m a huge opponent of false teaching as I’m sure you are, and the speaker’s message threw me off-kilter. The way he arrived at his conclusion was a bit dizzying. So, of course, I had to find out the truth and not just assume what I think I know. Remember that we are called to give a defense for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15).

We’ll begin by looking at the books of Matthew and Mark.

Early Philosophies

The speaker on the radio began by establishing Jesus’ authority over…well, everything. We find this at the conclusion of the book of Matthew when Jesus gives the Great Commission.

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’” Matthew 28:18-19

We see the Great Commission restated in the book of Mark.

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.’” Mark 16:15-16

Early Christian philosophers and church leaders had their individual ideas about how Jesus could have such authority and be able to share it with the disciples.

In the third century, Sabellianism said the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three different aspects of God, that God is not a trinity, and the three persons of the trinity exist only in God’s relation to man. So, because God exists in three separate people, and He has a relationship with man, we share in His authority.

In the fourth century, Arianism taught that Jesus was a creature made by God just like us. Because He had authority, that must mean we too have authority.

And in the fifth century, Nestorianism taught that God had a divine nature and a human nature, and it was only the human nature that Mary gave birth to. They believed that since Jesus had two natures perhaps we all do. Therefore, we all have the same authority Jesus has.

Obviously, each of these religious philosophies is amazingly wrong, and the speaker on the radio agreed. But somehow, he continued to preach that it’s in the Great Commission where we gain true authority like Jesus.Jesus gave the apostles direct authority from Him to heal the sick and forgive sin.

The Disciples Gain Authority

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me.” He then commands the disciples to go out, preach the Good News, and baptize those who believe. Let’s look at this step by step.

Who can they baptize? Those who believe.

What did someone do first after they believed in Jesus? They repented.

And, who did they confess their sins to? The disciples.

So, if someone believed in Jesus and confessed their sin to the disciples, that person could then be baptized. Which means the disciples must have had the authority to forgive sin.

Now, look at Mark 16:17-18. It’s where Jesus describes the signs of someone who believes Jesus is the Lord. They will…

  • Cast out demons
  • Speak with new tongues
  • Take up serpents
  • Be able to drink anything deadly without harm
  • Heal the sick

The speaker on the radio concluded that because authority had been given to the disciples to heal others, cast out demons, etc., the people they baptized inherited the same authority. And since we are also believers of Jesus and the gospel, we too have the same authority. That means you and I have the power to take up serpents, heal the sick, and forgive sin.

The apostle James seems to back this idea up in James 5:15-16

“And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

James indicates that by confessing our sin to someone else, we will be not only healed but forgiven. In other words, if we confess our sin to another believer, that person can forgive our sin because of the authority given to them through the Great Commission. This is not what James meant, but it is how some people interpret this verse.

It seems almost like a logical conclusion. That is until we back up to Matthew 10.

Signs of Authority

“And when [Jesus] had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.” Matthew 10:1Jesus gave only His disciples the authority to heal the sick and forgive sin.

Long before He issued the Great Commission, before His crucifixion, Jesus had already given power to His new apostles. He did this to clearly show that He possessed all authority over everything, including sin. Now, let’s look at 2 Corinthians 12:12.

“Truly, the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.”

The apostle Paul is saying the purpose of the miraculous signs was to confirm the apostles as God’s messengers and no one else. Paul says this after he describes the different members of a church in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30.

“And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?”

The answer to Paul’s series of questions is a resounding “no.” The body of Christ is diverse, each person with his or her own gift, and God purposely keeps it that way. That means not everyone is an apostle. In fact, only the apostles were ever apostles. Only they were ever given Jesus’ authority.

Apostles Only

As for the signs and wonders we would see, they applied only to the apostles and not everyone throughout time because their authority came directly from Jesus. Indeed, some of the apostles did experience all the signs (except for drinking poison). We find evidence of that in Acts 28 when Paul finds himself shipwrecked on the island of Malta where he decides to build a fire.

“But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand…But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.” Acts 28:3,5A snake bit the apostle Paul, and he wasn't harmed just as Jesus said would happen because of Jesus' authority..

We also know no one has ever possessed the same authority as the apostles since their time of ministry.

“And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.” Mark 16:20

Notice that this verse says the Lord was working with them. Not them and then Bill in 1875 and Susie in 1966 and David in 2019. The Lord was only working with them, the apostles, and there is no Biblical evidence that He has done it with anyone else since or ever intends to.

Only Jesus Has Authority

Since Jesus gave His authority to only the apostles, that means we don’t have any of it today. It also means we cannot forgive anyone’s sins. Someone can confess a sin to us, but we do not have the power to redeem it. They can pray the prayer of faith, and we can baptize them, but we do not have the authority to guarantee they will go to heaven. Only Jesus can do that through the power of His sacrificial blood on the cross and overwhelming grace.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever forgive others, of course. That is not what I’m saying here. We should always forgive as God forgives us. But that’s a personal kind of forgiveness and not of an eternal nature. That’s up for God alone to do.

As for authority, whatever we have is given to us only through the power of the Holy Spirit working through us. We have absolutely no authority on our own. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us power, strength, and wisdom to accomplish the things He needs us to do. He does this so only He receives the glory that comes from our work, and it’s well-deserving.

He alone deserves praise for the things we do.

Word of Caution

I still love listening to sermons on the radio (any Moody Radio fans out there?), but let me give you a final word of caution. Most of the time, the speaker knows what he’s talking about. There are many priests and pastors you can trust to tell the truth of the Bible. But if you’re listening and something inside you makes you think that doesn’t sound right, take that as the Holy Spirit trying to get your attention.If someone tries to teach you something that doesn't seem right, grab your Bible and read it for yourself.

Grab your Bible and look up the verses for yourself. Do your own homework. Remember, just because someone is on the radio, in the pulpit, or on the internet doesn’t mean they’re a complete expert, including me (though I do my absolute best to give you the most accurate information).

Only God is the expert. He knows what He wrote in His word, so go to Him when you hear someone preach and it doesn’t seem quite on spot.

Jesus is the authority over everything. He alone can forgive sin, which is His heart’s desire. If you are seeking forgiveness today, won’t you turn to a loving Savior who gave His life to save you from eternal destruction? He’s waiting to share His love with you and give you new hope today.

16 Replies to “Do We Have the Authority of Jesus to Forgive Someone’s Sin?”

  1. Hi can someone tell me if anyone who believes in Jesus is included in his statements in John’s gospels? and if true, does it not mean you and me today who believe in Jesus?

    John 14:12-14 NIV
    [12] Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

    [13] And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [14] You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

    • Yes, it means all of us who follow Christ. If we believe in Him, we are to “make disciples of all nations.” John 14:12 doesn’t mean we will have greater power, just greater extent. We will carry the message of the Gospel across the earth in His name and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  2. No one mentioned John 20 vs 21-23 where Jesus emphatically gave the Apostles the authority and power to forgive sins. At that express and important moment, The risen Lord did something exceptional. He breathed on them. (This reminds one of God breathing into Adam.) And said. “Receive the Holy Spirit”, then continued.whosoever sins YOU forgive ,are forgiven, and whosoever sins YOU RETAIN, is retained. This is a transfer of His authority and power to equip them, to fully provide salvation ,in His Name. Therefore ,where we read that “Forgiveness is Proclaimed, it is actually announced ,In the same way Jesus Himself used this power ,and authority ,upon the man 38 years a cripple at Bethesda and the woman, with the words “Your sin is forgiven”! When these words were spoken later, in the Name of Jesus, sins were forgiven by the Apostles. So it was not only through the gospel promised. But was actually available, through the apostles, proclaiming forgiveness in Christ name, as they were equipped by the Son of God Himself. The Reason for the interpretation given by Evangelicals is , No other minister has received this power, other than the Apostles, and seeing ,according to their understanding, no one else received this authority since then. they have no other alternative but to explain it in a more “general sense”, as “the preaching of Forgiveness.” But the first Christians had the benefit, of having their sins forgiven ,by the Apostles to whom Jesus clearly gave the authority and equipped to do so, in his Name. This is very clear in the scripture given, unless one puts your own spin on Jesus words and this commission. May this serve as notice,that the Apostle ministry has been re –
    established again in this end time, to complete this work, with the same authority as the Apostles of the Early Apostolic Church.
    Remember Jesus words .”As My Father sent Me, so I send You..” He placed their task on an equal level as His.!!!

    • Only the first apostles had the power you describe, plus Paul. No one has since, and the Bible does not indicate that anyone would. Some people claim to have this power, but it is false and unsubstantiated. Notice in John 20:21-23 that Jesus was only making a pledge to send the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. They did not receive the Spirit when Jesus breathed on them. But, by doing so, He was commissioning them to continue the Father’s work. They were the only ones (aside from Paul, who was also personally commissioned but at a later time) who were breathed upon by Jesus, and so they are the only ones to have the same power as Jesus to forgive. No one has since.

  3. Found this website while reading “more than a carpenter”. I really appreciate the time and energy you put into this. It really has helped me clarify the question in my mind: can we forgive sins committed to each other…

    Thanks!

  4. The Lord didn’t JUST work with that one specific group of apostles once and for all time. That’s a cessationist doctrine and it’s an error. Jesus works with the 5 fold in his church in the same manner

  5. If Jesus was fully flesh and condemned sin in the flesh, to show us that we can overcome in the flesh, why did he use divine power to forgive a sin. Wasn’t he only to use his fleshly power alone. He could have lead the person to pray for forgiveness. The pharisees had a problem with that.

  6. Thank you for your clarification of most of this I do agree that we are responsible to look up things if we don’t believe it’s true.. although I am a little concerned that I was raised under the assumption that we could rebuke or cast out Satan or fear etc. Do we have that Authority I need a scripture to nullify that for me…

    • I was raised to do that too, though engaging in such things can be dangerous if we’re not prepared. But you can do that because you have the power of the Holy Spirit within you. You can rebuke evil principalities and declare God’s power over your fears. Casting out demons is a whole other level though. The best way you can rebuke Satan is by resisting him. Remember the Bible says to resist the devil and he will flee from you. This means resisting the temptation to sin, whatever that might be at any given moment. Also claiming God’s promises and declaring them to Satan is highly effective as well. This is what Jesus did when Satan tempted Him while He fasted in the wilderness before He began His ministry. I hope this helps. I appreciate you stopping by. God bless!

  7. I don’t believe you’re correct at all. If you’re saying we have no power given to us the church by Jesus? That is a false teaching.

    • Only Jesus has the power to forgive sin. Not us. The only humans who were ever given the power to forgive were the apostles who were personally and specifically called to do so by Jesus Himself. We are not apostles, and despite what others may say, no one will ever be again. You would have to be chosen through an in-person, face to face conversation with Jesus, and that hasn’t happened since Paul’s encounter on his way to Damascus. This is not false teaching. In fact, I teach against false teachers and have written about how to identify them. Please go back and reread the book of Matthew. I believe you will find the answers you are looking for there.

      • Your article states: “As for the signs and wonders we would see, they applied only to the apostles and not everyone throughout time because their authority came directly from Jesus”.
        But the Bible in Acts 6:8 talks of Stephen and says, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.”
        Looking at the Scripture it doesn’t indicate anything about him being an apostle and in fact it says in Acts 6:6 he and the others were set before the apostles.
        Listen, Salvation is of Christ Jesus, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures
        He is Salvation (Yeshua Ha Mashiach)