This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion. Article 16 states:
XVI. Of Sin after Baptism
Not every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again, and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say, they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.
Where several of the previous Articles, especially the ones dealing with “good works,” put forth a theology in contradiction to the extremes of the Roman Church, Article 16 stands against one of the extremes of the radical reformation. Some, zealous for holiness in the church, eager to obey the teachings of Christ faithfully, and confident in the power of the Holy Spirit, came to the conclusion that “real Christians” don’t sin anymore. They got carried away with Bible verses like Hebrews 6:4 – “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit.”
To such extremists, a prayer of confession and repentance was only necessary once, at the beginning of the Christian life, and was thereafter unnecessary. Although the full force of this false teaching is not common today, its effects are still felt in many Protestant churches that never offer prayers of confession and declarations of forgiveness (or “absolution”) in their liturgies.
But, as Article 15 teaches, drawing from verses such as 1 John 1:8-9, the fact is that faithful baptized Christians are still sinners. There is indeed a biblical mandate to strive for perfection in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, but there is no indication that full sanctification will be achieved in this life. Only in death will we be free from sin completely.
Thus, as this Article explains, when Baptized Christians sin, “the grant of repentance is not to be denied.” This position is bolstered in Anglican liturgy by including a Confession of Sin in both the Daily Office and the Holy Communion liturgies, as well as provisions for the making of private confessions to a priest. The ministry of reconciliation, the declaration of God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, is a vital part of the Church’s role in the life of each and every believer. Nobody can claim that “they can no more sin” in this life. And the Church dare not “deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.” So we believe, and so we practice.