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The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (1)

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:19). Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 18:18). Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained (John 20:23).

I was asked to explain these texts in connection with the "keys of the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 16:19 speaks of the keys of the kingdom and the binding and loosing of sins. Matthew 18:18 speaks of the binding and loosing of sins. John 20:23 speaks of the remitting and the retaining of sins. Thus we see that through the keys ( Matt. 16:19 ) sins are bound and loosed (Matt. 16:19; 18:18), that is, remitted and retained (John 20:23). Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed churches all agree that these three texts are speaking of the same subject.

Christ, who owns the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19Rev. 3:7), gives them to Peter (Matt. 16:19) and the other disciples (John 20:23), as apostles of the church, and to the church (Matt. 18:18) to use through her teachers and elders (Matt. 18:18Eph. 4:11I Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17).

The keys are church discipline (Matt. 18:18) and the preaching of the gospel (Matt. 16:19John 20:23). By these means, sins are retained and bound on the impenitent or loosed and remitted from the penitent. To express it differently, through the faithful preaching of God’s Word and biblical church discipline, the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers and shut to unbelievers. The Holy Spirit uses faithful preaching and discipline to seal on the consciousness of the believer his inclusion in the kingdom of God. Likewise, by the proper use of the keys, unbelievers hear the gate of the city of God shut against them.

What is the role of the church in this? No man, not even an assembly of saints in an instituted congregation, can remit transgressions; God alone can forgive sins (Luke 5:21). The church forgives sins declaratively, when it proclaims the basis for the forgiveness of sins (the death of Christ for all the iniquities of His people) and the way of receiving the forgiveness of sins (faith alone in Christ), and promises forgiveness of sins to all believers and their (elect) children (Acts 2:38-39; 16:31). In preaching, true churches through their ordained pastors proclaim that all who trust in Christ alone for all their salvation are forgiven (thus loosing and remitting their sins) and that all who do not believe are not forgiven (thus binding and retaining their sins). Church members who fall into sin in doctrine or life or both and remain impenitent, after frequent brotherly admonition by the elders, are excommunicated by the church (thus binding and retaining their sins), but if they later repent and show real amendment they are readmitted as members of Christ’s church (thus loosing and remitting their sins). Rev. Stewart

Last modified on 27 March 2013
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 10
  • Issue: 14
Stewart, Angus

Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)

Ordained - 2001

Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001

Website: www.cprf.co.uk/

Contact Details

  • Address
    7 Lislunnan Road
  • City
    Ballymena
  • State or Province
    Co.Antrim
  • Zip Code
    BT42 3NR
  • Country
    Ireland
  • Telephone
    (01144) 28 25 891851

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