The Bible in 3 Minutes: Penance and Works

Today’s topic is penance and works. Do we earn forgiveness or eternal life? Our Roman Catholic friends believe that we need to do an act or acts of  penance to have our sins forgiven. In an excerpt from the Catholic catechism, under the Sacrament of Penance, it says “There remains, however, some indebtedness to divine justice which must be canceled here or hereafter. In order to have it canceled here, the pennant receives from his confessor what is usually called his “penance”, usually in the form of certain prayers which is he is to say or to do certain actions which are be performed such as visits to a church, the stations of the cross, alms deeds, fasting, prayer are the chief means of satisfaction, but other penitential works may also be enjoined.” Is this biblical? No, we confess our sins to God and ask for forgiveness. In Matthew 6:12, Jesus taught us how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We ask God for forgiveness. “If we confess our sins he is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Jesus said “Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times saying ‘I repent’, you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4) Jesus doesn’t mention he has to do penance for it. 

Forgiveness without penance. “This is the Covenant I will make with them after those days says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts and write them on their minds, he adds: I will never again remember their sin in their lawless acts. Now where there is forgiveness of these, there was no longer an offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:16-18) Likewise we do not earn our way to heaven. “For you are saved by grace through faith and that is not from yourselves, it is God’s gift, not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) Notice the steps. We have faith in God, in His Son Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. We are saved by grace, not works. We do not earn it, it is a gift from God. Once saved, we want to and are prepared by God to do good works. So faith, grace and then good works. Jesus already paid the price for our sins at the cross. We don’t have to and we cannot possibly do anything to earn them. Don’t refuse his gift to you.

In conclusion, we need to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged. We then need to repent and ask God to forgive us. We exercise faith. God’s gift us back is grace. We can’t earn forgiveness or eternal life. It is a gift for the faithful. May we search our hearts and minds and seek forgiveness for our sins.