We have heard the debate on who we are to forgive. We are told that our preaching needs to be more focused on grace and forgiveness. But my experience has been that it is they who understand grace the least and are the least forgiving.

Generally speaking, we are to forgive everyone. Just like God, we can’t be respecters of persons. But when the question “who are we to forgive?” is more closely investigated, we learn that while God genuinely offers forgiveness to all, He only forgives those who come to Him in repentance. This is the same measure Christians should require.

We too are to forgive one another, just as He forgave us. We are to forgive if and when someone repents. This leads to a degree of forgiveness that restores the relationship and the past is put to rest.

The graphic above is a way of showing the rightness of this path in contrast to the popular idea that we just forgive everyone, whether or not they repent, and whether or not they ask for forgiveness. The consequence of following the popular path is to create a church full of superficial relationships which makes it impossible for real Christian fellowship to occur. With the unrepentant being forgiven, allowed to continue on his way, relationships are strained and whatever forgiveness is given, is at best a superficial show and completely unlike the forgiveness God intended.
Witholding Forgiveness: Who must I forgive?
How God forgives, we forgive
Everyone is subject to the Law of Christ
1 John, Forgiveness of God

Categories: forgiveness, quantity or quality

3 replies

  1. Anonymous said: “When I was growing up in the church I once heard an excellent lesson on the same topic. The speaker shared your opinion that it is wrong to forgive the unrepentant because it is out of character with God and does not achieve the ultimate goal of reconciling that person.

    He even shared an illustration, based on real events, of a gunman entering a church building, gunning down several of the members, and then the surviving members having a prayer service holding signs for the media reading: “We forgive you!” His point was that those individuals were in error with that message of forgiveness to the unrepentant.

    What about the time during the crucifixion when Jesus made this request: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34″ – Anonymous


  2. Good question, one that is often asked. Speaking to the Father, Jesus would never ask amiss. He would never ask God to do something contrary to His nature. Jesus' prayer is an example for us to care for our enemies. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt. 5:44). In praying for our enemies, hopefully we are not asking God to suspend who He is and what He requires. We can pray for Kings and those in authority, because God desires for them to be saved, but we know that they must still meet certain conditions to be saved (1 Tim. 2:1ff). So we pray for them because we want them to be saved, but we don't think that God will save them in any way contrary to what we see in the New Testament: “believe and be baptized”. So when Jesus prayed for them to be forgiven, it was essentially the same thing for them not to be destroyed by God, but for them too to have a chance to be saved – to destroy such evil would not be beyond God.


  3. Dear Anonymous,
    When Jesus says, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” God DOES forgive them…when they repent and are baptized in Acts 2:38.


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