<<making up for past wrongs>>

This is a humanistic way trying to make amends for sin. It can be self-imposed through an act of devotion or menial task undertaken to show sorrow or repentance for sin. However, this practice is most commonly associated with a tradition of the Roman Catholic Church although other branches of Christianity also embrace it to some measure too. After confession of their sin to the priest, the 'punishment' is imposed on them, such as praying certain prayers a specific number of times, fasting or spending time in front of an altar. It is an incorrect belief is that God gave the apostles the authority to forgive sins and this authority was passed on to the successors of the apostles, namely, the leadership of the Roman Catholic church.

This incorrect tradition points to the verse, "If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven" (Jn 20:23). Yet this verse does not mention confession of sin. The Bible does not give any indication of apostolic succession nor did the NT apostles ever act if they had the authority to forgive a person's sin. Another verse sometimes used in support of penance is "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (Jas 5:16). Again there is no mention of church leaders mentioned in this context nor any hint of forgiveness of sins with the confession of sins to others.

The recognised understanding of John 20:23 is that the apostles were given the responsibility of declaring to those who believed the gospel were forgiven, while those who did not obey the gospel faced judgement (Act 16:31; 2 Thes 1:8; 1 Pet 4:17). Thus the apostles as they proclaimed salvation in Christ and exercised church discipline, they were operating in the authority Christ had given them (Act 4:12; Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 5:4,5).

Although a penalty or menial task undertaken as a good work of penance may help the sinner see the seriousness of the sin committed and so not repeat the offense, the Bible teaches forgiveness of sin can’t be purchased or earned. Performing good works or punishing oneself will not make restitution for sin. It is unbiblical. The Bible teaches sin

It is the blood that cleanses, not anything we do

must be acknowledged, confessed to the Lord and repented of (Lk 15:7; Act 11:18, 20:21). After repenting (which is a change of heart and direction), restitution (if appropriate) by correcting the matter is a valid form of being sorry for sin. It is only the blood of Christ that makes us right in His sight, purifying us from all sin (Heb 9:14; 1 Jn 1:7,9). Only God has the ability and authority to forgive sins (Isa 43:25). We do not need human mediators between us and God, only Jesus our Saviour (1 Tim 2:5). It is not our works (self-effort) that make us right with God, for in fact, they are considered as nothing more than “filthy rags” in His eyes (Isa 64:6).

In summary, the practice of penance as a means of atoning for sin or appeasing God is unscriptural and nowhere taught in the Bible because it focuses on man’s works in order to be forgiven, not the blood of Jesus and our relationship with Him

See also: apostolic succession, forgive/forgiveness, good works, punishment, restitution/restore, repentance, Roman Catholicism, self-help religion, sin/sinners.