Part 5 of 5
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ—that is to say, the death of Jesus—is the essential foundation of Christian faith, life, and proclamation. This series explores various aspects that highlight the importance of Christ’s sacrifice for believers.
Forgiveness of Sins: Not the only Aspect of Christ’s Sacrifice
Since the state of being a Christian—that is to say, of having acquired a completely new status before God—is itself rooted in the sacrificial death of Jesus, it is not appropriate to identify the sacrifice of Christ with the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins in the divine service. The sacrifice of Christ is indeed the basis upon which the forgiveness of sins can be pronounced and effected, however, the forgiveness of sins is only one product of this sacrifice—albeit an extremely important one.
Jesus conquered both Sin and Death
The Catechism makes it clear that the forgiveness of sins in general is closely related to the sacrifice of Christ: “The perfect sacrifice of Christ replaced the sacrificial service of the Old Testament. Jesus Christ led a life without sin. Through His sacrifice, the willing surrender of His life (John 10: 17–18), He broke the power of Satan and conquered the Devil and all his works, namely sin and death (2 Corinthians 5: 21). Since then the forgiveness of sins—in the sense of erasing—has become possible (Hebrews 10: 18), as has redemption from sin and death (Romans 3: 24)” (Catechism 22.214.171.124).
Liberated from the Rule of Sin
Through His death, Jesus Christ has effected forgiveness of sins for all those who belong to Him. This can be directly experienced through the washing away of original sin in Holy Baptism with water. It is through this act that the sin which radically separates mankind from God and conditions the human state of remoteness from God is neutralized—in other words, washed away. It is for this reason that the Catechism states: “The fundamental liberation from the rule of sin occurs through Holy Baptism with water, in which original sin is washed away” (Catechism 2.4.3). The Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople also points in this direction when it says: “We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.”
Role of the Apostles – Ministry of Reconciliation
Besides, the Apostles received the commission from the Risen Lord to proclaim the forgiveness of sins (John 20: 23). This commission, which the Apostles fulfill, serves to liberate the repentant sinner from the burden of sin, with which he has charged himself through his evil thoughts and deeds. Here the Catechism states: “Forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed. Jesus pronounced forgiveness of sins upon individuals (Luke 7: 48 int. al.). The authority to proclaim the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus is contained in the ministry of reconciliation, namely the Apostle ministry (John 20: 23)” (Catechism 126.96.36.199).
Automatic Absolution Guaranteed?
Forgiveness of sins occurs through the absolution, which is proclaimed in the name of Jesus Christ by authorized ministers. It is generally proclaimed in the divine service to the congregation. However, it only has its effect on those who grasp it in faith and fulfill the corresponding prerequisites. The Catechism also expressly points out that the forgiveness of sins pronounced in the divine service does not occur automatically: “The absolution proclaimed in authority and in the name of Jesus, when grasped in faith, erases sin” (Catechism 188.8.131.52). The “forgiveness of sins proclaimed before the consecration of the elements of Holy Communion also enables believers to worthily partake of Holy Communion” (Catechism 8.2.14).
Certainty of God’s Mercy and Grace
Believers who hear the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins and accept it in faith receive the certainty that the grace and mercy of God will accompany them in their lives. God inclines Himself to the sinner and liberates him from his debts again and again.Holy Communion Read part 4 of this series