“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” – Matthew. 6:12 (cf. Luke 17:3,4)
From time to time the topic of forgiveness comes up and invariably the denominational idea of unconditional forgiveness arises – as if one can be forgiven without repentance. To support this proposition, one uninformed fellow went so far as to say that God forgave people in the Old Testament without the people repenting. When asked to prove it, there was never a passage of text given. And this is an important issue because it is not only God that forgives, we ourselves are commanded by God to forgive. This can become contentious when these same uninformed people start talking about and telling others that they must forgive those who have sinned against them with no conditions. The Scriptures do not support this position. Jesus in His own words says that unless a man repents, he will perish (Lk. 13:3) and when the disciples asked about forgiving others, Jesus said to forgive an unlimited number of times “if he repents” (Lk. 17:3).
The illustration below depicts what I believe the Bible says about the love, tolerance, and kindness of God which transcends God’s forgiveness and salvation. All who have sinned also experience and enjoy the goodness and power of God which He revealed of Himself throughout the creation, but especially through Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). By implication, there is the willingness on God’s part to forgive all who believe in Him and obey the Gospel. He forgives everyone who repents of sin and is baptized into Christ Jesus.
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE
Whenever the subject of Christian forgiveness comes up, invariably we will hear someone say that it is not the concern of a Christian whether or not someone repents. The only concern of the Christian is to forgive, with or without receiving an apology or some other expression of forgiveness. This is not required and it is not wise.
I believe that being like God means being like Him in kindness, forbearance, patience, willingness to forgive, etc, (Rom. 2:4). In 2 Peter 3, the Apostle reminds us that “the Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is PATIENT toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to REPENTANCE.” A few verses later, Peter says, “and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation: . . .” (2 Peter 3:15). If we followed the reasoning of some people, then we would conclude that God is not only patient with sinful men, but that He also forgives them without their repentance. This would be a false conclusion. When we imitate God, we do not give men unconditional forgiveness. To do so is akin to preach the Gospel without repentance. We cannot forgive and restore people without also calling for them to repent. Forgiveness always follows repentance.
Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that Christians should not love only those that love them: the Gentiles do that much. He taught Christians to love and pray for their enemies who persecute them. That is God’s will that by loving all men, we are “perfect as He is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). We are not permitted to be vengeful or filled with anger; we must leave room for the vengeance of God. However, by feeding and giving water to your enemy, you “heap burning coals upon his head“, and thereby overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:19-21). However, and this is the point, we have no example of God forgiving the unrepentant, nor should we. Being like God, Christians are not required to forgive the unrepentant.
In the illustration above, we see both God’s justice and mercy revealed. He is just to require forgiveness from sinful man, and He is willing to forgive everyone who calls on Him (Acts 2:21,38; 22:16). Being christ-like means that we, to the best of our ability, demonstrate the same just and merciful attitude toward sinners. This is not an easy thing to do. Our human side wants to hang on to the bitterness and anger. But the repentant Brother must be forgiven, just like Paul commanded the Corinthians (2 Cor. 2:6,7,8).
Fake forgiveness. What I have seen from those uninformed fellows that insists they forgive others without needing repentance for wrongs done to them is a type of forgiveness not seen in Scripture. Nothing is restored. Nothing is healed. They just feel good about themselves for granting a forgiveness in name only. They don’t “let bygones be bygones”. They don’t eat with the forgiven person. They don’t continue giving their gifts. In fact, they sometimes move farther away from the one they “forgave”. This is a fake forgiveness and has no counterpart in the Scriptures.
Leave comments with Scripture if you like. Dan