Tuesday, August 18, 2015


During one of our “Jesus Without Religion (Or Politics)” meetups, someone asked if Christians were expected to forgive those who don’t repent.

It’s a common question, and a good one. Especially when you consider that Jesus tells us to forgive those who sin against us “if they repent…seventy times seven”.

So, if repentance is a pre-requisite for us to receive God’s forgiveness, then isn’t it only fair that other people should repent before we’re expected to forgive them?

Here’s what I think: Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount that we should “forgive our debtors” and even tied our own forgiveness of sins from the Father with our willingness to forgive other people.

However, if you forgive a debt, that means the person doesn’t pay what they owe you. And if someone owes you an apology, or an “I’m sorry”, you are expected to forgive that person without waiting to receive what they owe you.

I think we can also look at a few other places where Jesus forgave people who did not repent. He forgave the sins of the man dropped down from the roof right before he healed him and told him to take up his mat and walk. He also forgave the thief on the cross and promised that the man would be with him in paradise that very day. No mention of repentance there. And, of course, Jesus also forgave the soldiers who nailed him to the cross without waiting for repentance or contrition saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

So, I think that as followers of Jesus we are expected to forgive people without expecting an apology first.

“For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive those who sin against you, your Father will not forgive your sins.” – Jesus [Matt. 6:14-15]



NoahM said...

Jesus also told us the greatest commandment is to love God with everything and to love all others (your neighbors). Now, how can you love others without having forgiven them? Although we might glibly say "I forgive everyone", most us will have one or more people who we know we just cannot forgive, and if you cannot forgive them, you obviously don't love them. So we find true forgiveness of all is just as difficult as truly loving all.

In addition to the examples Keith mentions, some more exhortations to forgive are;
* Matthew 9:2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
* Mark 11:25 ...if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
* Luke 6:37 ... Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
* Luke 7:47-48 ... her many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Let us not forget the Lord's Prayer, forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Interestingly, many of the examples are of Jesus forgiving sins before healing. This is consistent with even the commonly expressed wisdom of this world that healing follows forgiveness.

Jesus also gave us stern warnings in Matthew 6:15 "But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." and at the conclusion of the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

So, there is no excuse not to forgive others.

I do think Keith misrepresented the example of Jesus telling us to forgive those who sin against us “if they repent…seventy times seven”. Matthew 18:20-22 says 'Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.' No mention of "repent" there. Luke 17:4 says 'Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.' In Luke 17:4, Jesus appears to be saying that repentance is not a pre-condition of repentance, rather he is saying that even if they are insincere in their repentance, forgive them anyway.

the alternative1 said...

Yep it should just follow naturally I mean come on we have the forgiver living inside of us.

Kelly said...

Thank you for this, Keith. The first thing that came to my mind was, why not forgive? Ultimately, what are the benefits? There are none. Even if we were "allowed" to hold on to bitterness and resentment, it's a tortuous way to live and it interferes with our other relationships, weakening our desire or ability to love others with Christ's love.

I think repentance is required for a relationship to continue growing, or in some cases, to even continue, though. My ex-husband is an abusive man, and while I do forgive him, I can't be in a friendship with him, because he is in denial and continues to be verbally abusive. With all my heart, I desire a friendship with him. I actually have to forgive him for making that an impossibility, even as it is forgiveness that makes me open to it.

I also thing, too, that forgiveness sometimes opens the way for repentance. Unconditional love and forgiveness can break down walls of denial and self protection. It creates a safe place to see the truth.

Such a good thing to be thinking about today! Thanks again!

Unknown said...

A few thoughts: Biblical Forgiveness by Christ's standards requiring defining. It includes absolutely reconciliation. After all, He doesn't say, "I forgive you but must keep you at a safe distance." However, in many cases that's what we do. The obvious example is when we are told we need to forgive a dead person. No reconciliation is possible. Another example is when the person involved is either very dangerous to us emotionally, physically or spiritually and having a relationship with them is out of the question, or when that person is unavailable for some reason. In those cases I believe we need to use a different word or phrase. I believe this is important because otherwise we obscure Christ's forgiveness. Therefore, I suggest to people that we sometimes need to "let go of our unforgiveness." In other words, allow God to be the judge. Allow Him to decide how to deal with the person in question. One of the reasons this is very important is because it's not at all uncommon for people to confuse becoming co-dependent or an abuse victim with forgiveness. This whole idea that one must, as a Christian forgive anything and anybody can create the never ending victim. I suggest an excellent book called both, Knowing When to Forgive and Knowing When NOT to Forgive. Btw, this is one very good reason why we need the body of Christ: to help us know when to be reconciled and when it's not reasonable to reconciled. It's sometimes not only not safe for us to Biblically forgive a person, but "cheap forgiveness' for some (like addicts) sometimes enables them to continue in sin. However, our brothers and sisters can help us determine whether we are being vindictive and unforgiving or simply doing what Scriptures teaches in Matthew when it tells us to confront one another about offenses in order to try to be reconciled.