If you are anything like me, you have been taught that you must always forgive everyone everything. No exceptions. No qualifications. Is that a correct teaching? I have come to believe that it is NOT. Let me present my thoughts on this subject.
I was studying the Bible recently when I noticed a few verses that have changed my mind. First of all, in Mark 2:7, we find an interesting question that is repeated in Luke 5:21. In Capernaum, a man, sick with palsy, was let down through the roof to Jesus. Jesus said to him, “Thy sins are forgiven.” The scribes who were present were immediately upset and incensed, asking, “Who but God can forgive sins?” And they were right. No one but God has the power to forgive sins, in spite of the doctrine of some. And under what conditions does God forgive sins? I challenge you to find anywhere in the Bible where God instructs us about the forgiveness by Him of a man’s sin where repentance is not the first condition.
Let us go back to what we have always been taught. Look at these passages:
•Matthew 6:14-15: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
•Matthew 18:21-22, 35: Then came Peter and said to Him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee seven times, but until seventy times seven….So also shall my Heavenly Father do unto you if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.
•Mark 11:25: And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father Who is in Heaven may forgive your trespasses.
It would appear for these verses that we are required to give unconditional forgiveness to anyone and everyone who sins against us, would it not? These are the verses I have heard repeatedly. But, you know, Psalm 119:160 says “The sum of thy word is truth.” To me, this is a warning to look carefully into the Word of God, studying all He has given about a subject and not just one verse. To get a clear picture of what God has said for us, we need to look at all He has given us on a subject.
So, let us also read Luke 17:3,4: Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times turn again to thee saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. Did you catch that? If your brother sins against you, and if he repents, you must forgive him.
This forgiveness is not merely a cancellation of bitter thoughts and the desire for revenge against another. The words “remission” and “forgiveness” are translated from the Greek, aphesis, which means “release,” or “the sending away of sins.” This is the restoration of a peaceful relationship which the offense interrupted, whether with God or with another. Indeed, when we sin against a brother, we also sin against God. Although Paul was speaking of a specific sin, his words apply to any general sin when he wrote: And thus, sinning against the brethren, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, ye sin against Christ. (I Corinthians 8:12). Sin is sin. When we sin against another, we also sin against God. Are we better than God? If God does not forgive sin except when the sinner repent, how can man do more than God and forgive a brother without the repentance of that brother?
We are urged to be Christ-like. We all accept that. This instance is no exception. We must always be ready to forgive any offense if the other asks for forgiveness. That is certainly true. Not to forgive a repentant brother would guarantee that God will not forgive us. But the key is repentance. It is our duty to love and forgive all, but, as with God Whom we try to copy, there can be no forgiveness unless there is repentance and the asking for forgiveness. In fact, if we say we have forgiven when the other has not asked for forgiveness, we present a false picture to that brother, and, indeed, sin against him because we have indicated to him that all is all right when God has not forgiven him if he has not repented.
So, the conclusion is this: If someone offends you, you have no right to be bitter toward that person. However, the absence of bitterness is not forgiveness. But if that other person comes and asks for forgiveness, then and ONLY THEN, can we truly forgive that other person.
I know this goes against what we may have been taught. I know it will offend some. But I urge you to closely study this matter. I would not want you to sin in ignorance by forgiving what God has not forgiven. If you have thoughts on this article, please leave a comment.