I had a conversation recently with a person on the subject of when to forgive those who have done wrong against us. I noticed from this person’s view that, like many, she believed that you should forgive a person no matter if he or she asks for forgiveness or not. The person I spoke too equated forgiving those who have not repented with showing love toward them. I also often hear other cases of this such as on the television, where a family member of a murdered victim will forgive the murderer when the murderer had not asked for forgiveness. It seems that this method of “forgiveness” is a common occurrence in the world today, but is it right in the sight of God to forgive those who have not repented?
By looking at Scripture, the only examples that we have of when to forgive those who have wronged us are after they repent and ask us to forgive them. Luke 17:3 says, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” Likewise, Luke 17:4 states, “And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” It appears from these verses that God expects us to forgive those who do us wrong only IF they repent and want our forgiveness. I have seen no example in the Bible where God says that we can forgive those who have not repented. Some may look at Mark 11:25-26 to defend the idea that it is acceptable by God to forgive those who have not asked for forgiveness. These verses state, “And when ye stand praying , forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive you your trespasses.” We should rightly divide all of Scripture and take all of the verses into consideration when we expound upon Scripture. We must not “pick and choose” which we shall consider. By combining all of these verses it is clear that God commands us to forgive those who have trespassed against us ONLY after they repent.
What many people fall into the trap of doing is confusing the act of not forgiving those who have not asked for forgiveness with holding a grudge. Not forgiving those who have not asked for forgiveness means that you are still required to treat that person good, and you are still required to act lovingly toward that person, but you are also required to teach that person the error of his or her way. Holding a grudge means that you harbor resentment toward the person who has done you wrong, and you do not treat that person as well as you would if you were not angry with them. We should never harbor ill feelings toward anyone at any time.
God does not expect us to do something that He would not do Himself. God will not forgive the sins of those who are not obedient to Him, and He will also not forgive the sins of those who do not repent and ask Him for forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Also, Luke 13:3 says, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Many people believe that not forgiving someone who is not repentant means that you harbor ill feelings toward him or her, but that is not the case. Not forgiving those who are unrepentant just means that you will need to confront that person about his or her sinful behavior in hopes that you will influence him or her to change for the better and make it to Heaven someday. It is easier to take the course that many people take and that is to just ignore and overlook the wrongdoing of others without taking the time to teach them better, and to erroneously call this act “forgiveness.” It takes much more courage to tell a brother or sister that he or she is wrong so that the person in the wrong may be compelled to repent and continue life as a faithful Christian. If, on the other hand, a person asks for your forgiveness, you do not have to confront that person, because that person has already shown signs of changing for the good. It is our duty as Christians to first of all, be obedient to God, and secondly to help as many people go to Heaven as we can. Failure to try to help others become faithful children of God causes us to sin in return. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
Part 2 of this article will be available to read next week!