What is Penance?

by Pastor Don Hosfeld

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“What is penance? Is it addressed in Scripture, and does it have a place in the life of a person in the Body of Christ?”

The word penance is only found in two versions of the Bible: the NLT, a thought-for-thought translation, and the NAB, a Catholic version.

While some define penance as merely a “voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong,” in reality, penance is directed by a priest and more accurately defined as a “punishment and work to atone for sin.” Thus, making it a work designed to obtain forgiveness for sin and to provide reconciliation with God. This meaning is confirmed by the statements and actions of those who practice it.

According to Catholic doctrine, the “sacrament of Penance is, for those who have fallen after baptism, necessary unto salvation” and is “granted through the priest’s absolution to those who with true sorrow
confess their sins and promise to satisfy for the same.” Furthermore, they claim “penance is the removal of the one obstacle that keeps the soul away from God.” None of these agree with Scripture.

According to Romans, members of the Body of Christ are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood” (3:24,25). “To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (4:4,5). “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand” (5:1,2).

Penance is neither Scriptural nor glorifying to God and has no place in the life of a believer. For those of us that believe that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, we are “in Christ”; no obstacle exists between us, and nothing can separate us from Him (cf. Rom. 8:37-39). For those who have not believed, no work of man can secure that relationship.

To the Reader:

Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:

"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."

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