The prodigal son said “I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight.”, Lk. 15. Do you forgive them who have sinned against heaven if they have not repented to God? How can we forgive those God has not forgiven?
People will talk about the need to forgive regardless of whether the person is repentant, as if not doing so is equal to being vengeful or that the failure to do so will is a burden to great to carry. Not forgiving is not equal to “holding a grudge”. It is not equal to taking vengeance. Forgiving is a transaction that is to bring reconciliation and healing between the wrongdoer and the wronged. Forgiveness that doesn’t mend is not forgiveness that I know of from Scriptures.
People will say that Jesus said you must forgive people’s trespasses before you offer your sacrifice to God. That’s
a general principle because Christians cannot withhold forgiveness.
Can you forgive a debt someone owes whether they admit they owe it, whether they ask or say thank you? Sure you can. Is it how God works? No. Luke 17 says to first approach that person and rebuke him. That’s the part that is left out of the forgiving without Repentance approach. You have to rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. 7 times 70 times.
Jesus prayed for them to be forgiven. But were they forgiven? Have you read Acts 2 and 3 and 4 where the sin was laid at the feet of them that crucified Jesus? Jesus had authority to forgive the thief. And the thief went to paradise that day. But Jesus asking for them to be forgiven is not the same thing as forgiving them.
The similarity to Stephen’s words have been mentioned, which I agree is a like plea: “Falling on his knees, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:60.
I believe what we are seeing in Jesus’ and Stephen’s words is akin to a mother praying for her son to be forgiven by God. There’s a lot to unpackage in that. She knows he will need to be like the prodigal who comes to his senses and return with humility. In the Netflix movie, The Drive, when the wayward son called home and expressed remorse, he came home to find every light on and the front door propped open. The parents want to forgive. They love him. It doesn’t mean he’s forgiven. Loving and withholding forgiveness are not mutually exclusive. They are found in the same God and they are found in the same godly person.