I hear so often people speaking of forgiveness as some sort of unconditional thing we must do regardless of the actions of the person who has done something against us. In a number of these cases, folks have expressed heart-rending difficulty in forgiving someone because the nature of the sin against them was so grievous (murder, rape, betrayal, etc. would be extreme examples). They want to forgive desperately, but simply can't. This creates a scenario where the victim of a sin feels like they are forced to sin as well because of what the other person has done unto them.
This is not a Biblical approach to forgiveness.
I. God does not forgive unconditionally.Edit
In all cases where man receives forgiveness from God for man's sins, God demands man's repentance first. Repentance is a turning from one action and toward the opposite action.
Acts 3:19 - Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Repentance is required before God will forgive us or God would be unfaithful and unjust to forgive us of our sins. If forgiving without repentance and confession (confession implies repentance) is unjust and unfaithful for God, how could it possibly be just and faithful for us to forgive without these things?
It is actually harmful for both the forgiver and the sinner to forgive unconditionally. God doesn’t (Acts 17:30) and we should not either.
When the Jews of that day killed God's Son, He demanded repentance for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38; 5:31; 26:18). When Simon the sorcerer sought to purchase the ability to pass on miracles by laying on his hands as the apostles did in Acts 8, Peter told him to repent.
Repentance is commanded by God in all points as a prerequisite to forgiveness of sins (2 Cor. 7:10).
II. We are to forgive as God forgives.Edit
Colossians 3:13 - Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
Are we better than God? Is our forgiveness without condition somehow greater than God's who requires conditions? Even when Christ was on the cross calling for God to forgive His countrymen for crucifying Him, God still required those people to repent.
Jesus said in Luke 17:3-4: "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." Jesus did not call for us to forgive unconditionally. IF is a really big little word. It means that the statement that follows is a condition upon which the then statement is based. IF he repents, THEN forgive.
III. How should human forgiveness work? What should it look like?Edit
It is one thing to be “judgmental” and another to properly judge a situation or the actions of a person. If a person has sinned against you, then you need to examine several things about yourself.
- 1. You need to make sure you are not guilty of sin against them. If you are, then you need to repent of it, confess that sin to them, and ask them for forgiveness. (Matt. 7:1-5)
- 2. If you are not, then you need to examine yourself and make sure you are willing and ready to forgive the person who sinned against you at any moment in time. (Matt. 18:21-35)
- 3. If you are then ready, then you need to follow the pattern in Matt. 18:15-17 if they are a brother in Christ, or simply go to them if they are not and tell them of the situation.
- 4. If that person is penitent and desires your forgiveness, give it. Give it freely and without holding a grudge. If you can’t forgive them, then you have the problem, not them. (Matt 6:12, 14-15; Luke 23:34; 2 Cor. 2:1-11; Eph. 4:32)
- 5. If that person is not penitent, then acknowledge the state that exists between you. Tell them that you are ready and willing to forgive them the moment they recognize their sin against you, and that you desire to forgive them, but can not, scripturally, until there is repentance. It isn’t high mindedness to tell them this, it is obedience to God rather than to your own heart, your own feelings, which can lead you astray (Prov. 3; Jer. 17:9).
The person who forgives without condition only incites the sinner to continue in that activity because they know there are no consequences to face (from you, anyway) by their actions. This is not healthy for either the one continuing in sin OR the one they sin against. It only enables them to continue in sin! Ultimately the person who forgives unconditionally is unloving because they provide no correction to those who have done wrong (1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:6-7; Rev. 3:19).
For those who have a heart to forgive, your heart is in the right place. Don't let the guilt of your inability to forgive those who have not made things right with you by repenting lead you to believe you are doing something wrong as well. You always need to seek the best for others and the best is turning from sin and toward righteousness. Forgiving unconditionally only promotes a continuation in sin and is not true love.
In Truth and Love.