A false idea has taken hold in some Christians that they must forgive everyone. Not just those that repent; but also those who spit on them and do not seek forgiveness. To do so would be the very definition of “casting pearls before the swine.” This misconception has occurred I believe due to a failure to properly distinguish between the general truth that all sin is forgivable and the specific truth that forgiveness is contingent upon repenting. There is a confusion between when we absolutely must forgive – if we wish for God to forgive us – and when we must not.
The accompanying illustration shows that some people are forgiven and some people are not. God extends the offer of forgiveness to everyone, but some refuse to heed His word. Why would anyone think that it was unchristian or ungodly to withhold forgiveness to those who do not seek it?
God will forgive all sins, but only if people believe, repent and are baptized.
Consider Jesus’ poignant words told to the Apostles: “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained” (John 20:23).
In these words we find the power that Jesus gave to His disciples to forgive or not forgive. “They have been retained” means that God does not forgive. “If you retain the sins of any” means that the disciples would not forgive everyone. Now why would we think that God expects us to forgive everyone? Jesus taught the similar principles to Peter and the rest Apostles in connection to church discipline. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Mt. 18:18). Forgiveness is the key entering the kingdom of God. When a man is not forgiven by God, he is not added to the kingdom. And the church shows the same understanding by refusing fellowship to the man who will not repent of his sins (see 1 Cor. 5:1ff).
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” – Mt. 7:6
The near immediate reaction of some people to the suggestion that everyone is not forgiven that it is somehow unchristian. How can it be “unchristian” if Christ did it? What do you think Jesus was saying when He said, “don’t cast your pearls before the swine”? Jesus meant for His disciples to be discerning. Do you think a pig cares whether or not you forgive him? Does forgiving the pig make it any cleaner? No. You throw your pearl of forgiveness before the swine, you just make yourself feel good and accomplish nothing. If that accomplished anything, don’t you think God would be doing it? God is patient (Rom. 2:4), but He is not forgiving until people come to their senses and repent. Forgiving a person who doesn’t seek it is a wasted and pointless activity. And on top of that, it cheapens what forgiveness is. “Well,” people say, “Doesn’t that encourage hate and vengeance?” Nothing could be further from the truth. Withholding forgiveness is not a license to act unkind or to be vengeful. Instead pray for your enemies and return good for their evil because God is patient and kind with those not yet forgiven.
Jesus’ words to the disciples meant that Christians were not under obligation or expectation from God to forgive those who would not repent. Read the words again and understand that “If you forgive” does not mean “since you forgive”, as if it is a foregone conclusion that you must forgive everyone. The second part of Jesus’ statement makes it clear that everone will not be forgiven. Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained” (John 20:23).
What we learn from Jesus Christ is that God’s capacity to forgive is great. Our should be too. But sometimes God does not forgive. In these times, neither can we.
More on the Unconditional Forgiveness. More on Kindness and Forgiveness Like God’s
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