The forgiveness of sin lies at the core of Christian faith. The majority of Christians believe that the forgiveness of sin was the main reason for Jesus Christ's life and death, and that he atoned -- or paid the price -- for all sin when he was crucified. But denominations differ on how to obtain and retain God's forgiveness.
Orthodox Christians teach that only God can forgive sin. People are first forgiven when they are baptized, and should they sin again, the Orthodox believe that they can be forgiven once again and restored to communion with God by confessing, then renewing their commitment to following his laws.
Roman Catholics believe that people obtain God's forgiveness through the sacraments of baptism and confession. In their view, baptism washes away original sin, present in all mankind from birth, as well as any sin the individual has committed. Catholicism teaches believers to confess sins committed after baptism to a priest, who assigns a penance for the sinner to perform to return to God's grace.
Lutherans teach that God's grace alone forgives when believers have faith in Christ. They believe that baptism combined with faith bestows forgiveness of sins, and also that Christians should confess those sins to their ministers, whose pronouncement of forgiveness carries the full authority of Christ.
Presbyterian and Reformed
Presbyterian and Reformed churches teach that people are incapable of receiving God's grace unless chosen by God - they often refer to this as "election." In Reform theology, all are sinful, but only the elect will acknowledge their sinfulness and trust in Christ's sacrifice for forgiveness. They further believe that it's impossible to lose one's election, or salvation.
Anglican and Episcopal
According to the Episcopal Catechism, people receive grace - which includes the forgiveness of sin - through the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist, also called Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper. Those who have sinned and repented -- turned away from sinful behavior -- may undergo the rite of reconciliation, in which they confess to God in the presence of a priest and are assured of pardon.
Baptists believe that when a person becomes saved by acknowledging that they are a sinner and that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior, believing by faith that his death paid the price for their sins, they are forgiven of all sins past, present and future. For Baptists, therefore, confession is not a way to be forgiven, but a means to restoring a proper relationship with God.
Methodist and Wesleyan
Methodist and Wesleyan beliefs teach that God provided for forgiveness of all sin through the death of Jesus on the cross. Forgiveness - called justification - is therefore obtained through repentance and faith in Christ. Should people sin following justification, they must repent of their sin and turn to God once more to be forgiven.
- Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: The Fundamental Teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church
- Catholic Answers: The Forgiveness of Sins
- Lutheran: Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation
- The Lutheran Witness: What Gives the Pastor the Power to Absolve?
- The Westminster Presbyterian: Forgiveness
- Episcopal Church: Book of Common Prayer
- The Wesleyan Church: Our Core Values & Beliefs
- Digital Commons: Forgiveness: Hindu and Western Perspectives
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