Are Works of Penance Necessary for the Remission of Sins?



Roman Catholics believe that besides a genuine repentance and confession of sins, works of penance are required as compensation to divine justice for the forgiveness of sins. They say that an example of the imposing of penance by the local church can be seen from the following verse.

1 Corinthians 5:1­2 (NIV) It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?

The punishment of putting the sinning brother out of fellowship is believed to be a form of penance.

Protestants believe that works of penance are not necessary for the remission of sins. Nowhere does the Bible talk about works of penance as necessary for the forgiveness of sins. The above verses merely talk about church discipline to correct an errant brother. They do not say that these actions were taken as some kind of satisfaction for sin.

The Bible is clear that Christ’s death was an once­and­for­all sacrifice for our sins. When Christ died for our sins, He paid for its debt and satisfied God’s divine justice completely. There is no need for us to continually offer sacrifices for our sins by works of penance.

Hebrews 10:14 because by one sacrifice he (ie Jesus) has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (NIV)

Hebrews 9:28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (NIV)

John 19:30 (NIV) When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

If we still have to satisfy God for what is due to our sins, then in what way is Christ’s redemptive work considered finished?

Since Christ has fully paid for the debt of our sins, all that is left for us to do to receive forgiveness of sins and escape punishment is to have faith in Jesus.

Acts 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (NIV)

Romans 4:5 (NIV) However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

Sure we sin even after believing in Jesus, but the Bible says that God overlooks the sins as if we had never sinned. In other words, our daily practice is different from our spiritual position. The best illustration to show this difference is in God’s response to the Israelites. In Numbers 23:21, God said that He “has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel”. How could that be? Since Israel’s exodus from Egypt, they have not stopped sinning against God. They complained to God when they reached the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10­12), when the water was bitter (Exodus 15:23­26), when there was a shortage of food (Exodus 16:1­13) and when they had no water (Exodus 17:1­7). God could react this way towards the Israelites because their spiritual position and their daily practice were different. We may continue to sin after becoming a Christian but God sees in us only the righteousness of his Son Jesus Christ (Rom 4:5).

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