Should Forgiveness be "Unconditional"?

The forgiveness controversy

Back in 1999, I preached a series on the subject of forgiveness. Many folks in our congregation had never heard the approach I took. A number commented that they heard Christian leaders on the radio or in magazines take the opposite position during the weekdays between my sermons.

The world and much of evangelicalism believe that we should forgive unconditionally. Secular psychologists and popular preachers have formed an alliance that intimidates many of us from even considering the alternatives. Yet many Bible teachers believe that forgiveness is conditioned upon repentance. I am in the latter group.

Bible-believing Christians agree that we are to forgive others as God forgives us. If you believe God forgives unconditionally, this would logically lead you to Universalism, the belief that everyone is saved; no one is under the wrath of God because God’s wrath is not directed toward those who are forgiven. If God forgives unconditionally, then none are unforgiven. Most evangelicals recognize that multitudes are lost, yet many say that God forgives unconditionally. Do you see the contradiction here?

That the Lord does not forgive unconditionally is clear in Scripture: “Surely at the command of the LORD it came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh… and the LORD would not forgive…” (NIV: 2 Kings 24:3-4).

So lets set aside our preconceptions and consider what the Bible actually teaches about forgiveness. See if my points are validated by God’s Word.

The manner of forgiveness

First, we are to forgive others in the same manner God forgives us. Ephesians 4:32 reads, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

God’s condition for forgiveness

Second, God’s manner of forgiveness requires our repentance. Acts 3:19 gives us a taste of Apostolic preaching: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord….” Note that repentance (a change of mind, including regret for sin) is the required condition for God’s forgiveness. God does not hold us to a higher standard than He holds Himself. His grace extends only to those who repent; He does not expect us to be more gracious than He is.

In Acts 8:22, after Simon had sinned by seeking to buy the Holy Spirit, Peter rebuked him with these words: “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.” Note that forgiveness is neither presumed nor assumed. It is conditioned upon repentance.

So if we forgive as God forgives, and God forgives in response to repentance, logically we are to forgive others when they repent.

Levels of forgiveness

Third, we must ask the question, “Forgiveness at what level?” When we turn from our sins (repent) and turn to Christ, all our sins are forgiven: past, present, and future—at least, as far as salvation goes. Nothing can take us out of God’s hand. We are given the righteousness of Christ and the seal of the Holy Spirit, and we are already legally seated in heaven (Ephesians 1-2).

Even though we cannot lose our salvation, we can lose our fellowship with God. When the believer lives in rebellion against God, sin blocks his ability to communicate with God (Psalm 66:18) and places him in a position to be disciplined by the Lord (1 Cor. 11:32). If we grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30)—the One who assures us of our salvation (Rom. 8:16)—we could logically lose our sense of assurance as we quiet His voice.

How do we remedy this situation? 1 John 1:9 makes it clear: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” To my way of thinking, this implies that if we do NOT confess our sins, he will NOT forgive us our sins. If God forgives us unconditionally, the verse becomes meaningless.

Sometimes forgiveness involves God not zapping people physically here on earth. I think that when Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who crucified Him, He meant, “Don’t zap them.” His example clearly makes a distinction between sinning in ignorance (“for they know not what they do”) and sinning with full knowledge.

Forgiveness in relationships

Fourth, we must boldly apply these concepts to our relationships. If others confess how they have sinned against us, we are obligated to initiate the forgiveness process. That does not mean we immediately trust them, for credibility can only be restored through faithful behavior over time. Sometimes credibility can never be fully restored. In such a case, forgiveness (a restoration of relationship as if the offense had never occurred) can never be complete.

Jesus put it this way: “So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Although shorter accounts of Jesus’ teaching could be wrongly interpreted to suggest unconditional forgiveness, the longer passage in Luke presents a more detailed truth and qualifies our obligation to forgive.

We cannot always simply choose to forgive; forgiveness can be a struggle that may take a long time; it sometimes involves a process of sorting through emotions and moving gradually toward forgiveness (complete reconciliation). Sometimes we might need to say, “With God’s help, I will try to forgive you, but I am not there yet.” Honesty is crucial at this point. Christians who believe they must immediately forgive an offense often become good liars—to themselves first, and then to others.

Even when someone does not repent, it is often in our best interest to let a hurt go, if we can. We should do so because we know that bitterness drains us and keeps us from enjoying the life God has given us. We should not do so out of false guilt, but for our own benefit. Do not confuse this with genuine forgiveness, which brings complete relational restoration.

I have seen people horribly victimized and then plagued by guilt because they cannot seem to forgive the one who abused them. This guilt adds to their heavy burden. Often such guilt is unwarranted because the offender has not even requested forgiveness or evidenced genuine repentance. Sometimes people simply do not want to forgive because they are grasping for control—withholders of grace. Forgiveness evens the score, and some of us want the advantage and excuse of being a wronged person.

God recognizes that some situations are so evil that it is natural for us to want to get even. God Himself is a God of justice, so since we are in His image, we desire justice. Paul wrote: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21). Find consolation in knowing that God will hold everyone accountable; none can evade Him.

I have presented what I believe to be the correct teaching of Scripture about forgiveness. My challenge to you is to study the Scriptures and test the above, especially since my understanding is the minority viewpoint. If you disagree with me, I’ll forgive you!


Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (in 1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed later felt a call to ministry and enrolled at Moody Bible Institute (B.A., Pastoral Studies/Greek). After graduating, he served as pastor of Victory Bible Church of Chicago (a branch work of Cicero Bible Church) and married Marylu Troppito. In 1983, the couple moved to Kokomo where Ed began pastoring Highland Park Church, where he still serves. Ed and Marylu have two adult children, Hannah and Luke. Ed loves to write. He has written over 500 weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and populated his church’s website with an endless barrage of papers. You can access them at www.highlandpc.com.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ed, appreciate the article... and the discussion.

I think I mostly agree w/Ed's take, though the subject is complex and much rests on how you define "forgiveness." I think the key is understanding that forgiveness is a relational phenomenon. We have the opportunity to forgive folks who have some kind of relationship to us (even if the relationship is "stranger who backed into my car") and forgiving has to do with some kind of "release" (there are several words translated "forgive." If I remember right, more than suggests a letting go) in the context of that relationship.

So this is why--to use an example somebody mentioned above--it was wrongheaded for Billy Graham to "forgive" Clinton for his immorality. Clinton had not personally wronged him and the wrongs Clinton did commit were against God, his wife and his nation. So God could forgive him in the context of that relationship, the nation could forgive in the context of that relationship and his wife could forgive in the context of their relationship. But an individual believer cannot meaningfully forgive the actions of a president.

This is predicated on the idea that "forgive" is a behavioral word, not a feelings word. It's a decision not to hold a behavior against someone in your future interactions with them. You have freed them from what they owed you.

So I think there's alot of confusion between forgiveness as behavior and forgiveness as a feeling. I don't think the latter is a biblical way to look at it. The feelings involved are lingering resentment, fear, anger, etc., and they need to be dealt with but it's separate issue from forgiving, which is a commitment to treat the person as one who does not owe you anything (anymore).

At this point, I can't prove the "relational phenomenon" idea, but it certainly harmonizes several of the forgiveness complexities we find in the Bible. ... and just try imagining a scenario where forgiveness could be called for without there being a) a person who did something wrong, and b) a wronged party. There's your relationship.

As for whether we can "forgive" someone who does not admit wrong...
I'm still wrestling w/that one. I do believe we can overlook (Prov.19:11) wrong, and we can certainly "forbear" (Col.3:13) many small wrongs. These are unilateral acts. What I'm not sure of at this point is the exact difference between forbearing and forgiving and when one is called for vs. the other.
Ed.. have any thoughts on that?

cdbrauns's picture

Aaron,

I think you bring up a good point. There are times when we overlook an offense (Prov 19:11), when love covers (1 Peter 4:8). So, we need to make a wise choice about whether or not an offense requires Matthew 18.

If you look on this left side of this page (and, I know it isn't very artistic) you will see some of the questions to ask when deciding whether or not to confront.
http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2009/07/10/a-one-page-overview-of-unpacking-f... http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2009/07/10/a-one-page-overview-of-unpacking-f...

You can click on the page to make the diagram larger.

Ed Vasicek's picture

SKJ Noble said:

Quote:
What does the "repent" look like here?

And Susan made comments along these same lines. Here is my paradigm:

1. We forgive someone when they verbally ask for it. In many instances, we just move on and put the matter out of our minds. This is the most common type of forgiveness we exercise.

2. In more serious situations, this might be the beginning of the process. If the situation involves a serious or repeated breech of trust, we are now choosing to move forward and we are allowing the person a chance to re-establish credibility, and are hopeful that he will. Think of the early church's struggle to forgive and accept Saul of Tarsus.

3. We trust someone when they have re-established credibility. Sometimes a Barnabas may take the risk of trusting one earlier than the rest of us might. That's okay, as long as we are open.

"The Midrash Detective"

Jay's picture

Quote:
As for whether we can "forgive" someone who does not admit wrong...
I'm still wrestling w/that one. I do believe we can overlook (Prov.19:11) wrong, and we can certainly "forbear" (Col.3:13) many small wrongs. These are unilateral acts. What I'm not sure of at this point is the exact difference between forbearing and forgiving and when one is called for vs. the other.
Ed.. have any thoughts on that?

I don't think it's really that hard. God doesn't 'forgive' sinners without repentance on their part..otherwise, they die in their sins and suffer the penalty. Is forgiveness available? Yes. But since they haven't 'admitted wrong', there is no forgiveness.

Am I overthinking this? Don't have time to link to passages now, but at least three or four popped into and out of mind.

--edit--
I thought about this passage, and actually deleted it from my post, but Kim caught it before I said something. Anyway, I'm not so sure that this passage applies, but I'm thinking of how Paul (I'm assuming it's Paul, anyway) is talking about there not being any sacrifice sufficient for people who despise the work of Christ. It's in Hebrews 10:

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26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

skjnoble's picture

Hi Jay, I thought the writer of Hebrews, in the chapter 10 reference, was teaching us about what our response to hearing the truth of Scripture should or shouldn't be, not what our relationships and subsequent responses with each other should or should not be. Definitely could be corrected here!

Susan--appreciate your personal example on sincerity. Thanks!

Ed, thanks for the thoughtful paradigm. I guess I'll have to chew on it more. Thanks!

Kim

Ed Vasicek's picture

Aaron wrote:

Quote:
I'm still wrestling w/that one. I do believe we can overlook (Prov.19:11) wrong, and we can certainly "forbear" (Col.3:13) many small wrongs. These are unilateral acts. What I'm not sure of at this point is the exact difference between forbearing and forgiving and when one is called for vs. the other.
Ed.. have any thoughts on that?

I think we can say that God demands we forgive when another is repentant, but He makes no such demand about forgiving the non-repentant. I think we often can forgive in many instances, but I do no know if this is realistically possible in every situation. Even then, we have to love our enemies. The fact that we have enemies (or are expected to) is significant. Many modern Christians would feel uncomfortable admitting they had enemies, even if they did. If you "forgive" unconditionally, I suppose having an enemy must then become a one-way street. But that is not always reality. Romans 12:18 is a key verse:

Quote:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

But if we have an obstacle between us, and another, it is hard to be "at peace." Being passive can often be wrong. Passivity is often pawned off as being loving when it is just passive. A person who is passive when lost is not all of a sudden loving because he is now saved. He is still just passive.

God will help us to do what he demands (forgive the repentant), and he will help us cope when we cannot forgive based upon a non-repentant attitude. But the struggle on both counts can be, well, a struggle. A lot of times Christians feel guilty being angry at an offender because they think they are required to forgive the non-repentant, and then they turn the anger in toward themselves and suffer from depression. A lot of depressed Christians have trouble asserting themselves and consider it unloving to do so. So these issues are not just idealistic but extremely practical and very much affect the quality of our lives.

Forbearing and overlooking, in my view, are for minor offense, irritations, rudeness, etc.. The kind of things James addresses in James 3:2

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We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
.

Overlooking is an important Christian virtue. It can be coupled with the idea of walking the EXTRA mile (but not an extra 10). IMO. If something sticks in our craw, we need to bring it up ala Matthew 18, I would say. Certainly the sins listed in I Corinthians 5:9-11 are cases in point, if a believer is involved. The real thorny issue is about when to confront a lost person.

"The Midrash Detective"

Matt Walker's picture

You are mixing the forgiveness of God in saving a sinner with the forgiveness between sinful men. Is there a reason for you to do that? Are there any Scripture passages that allow for that?

Moreover, in Luke 6 in reference to our enemies (surely as they are enemies they will never ask our forgiveness for anything) we are told to love, do good, bless, and pray for them. I’ll ask again: how can you do that and not forgive them?

Matt Walker's picture

How can you interpret Ephesians 4:32 as eliciting a pattern (your word) or a process (my word) for forgiveness? To read "just as in Christ, God forgave you" to demonstrate a method of forgiveness is to read way to much into that verse, IMO.

BryanBice's picture

Matt Walker wrote:

Moreover, in Luke 6 in reference to our enemies (surely as they are enemies they will never ask our forgiveness for anything) we are told to love, do good, bless, and pray for them. I’ll ask again: how can you do that and not forgive them?

Perhaps the solution is found in understanding that forgiveness has to do with relationships. Look at forgiveness as a step in which the "wedge," driven in a relationship by the offense of one party, is removed so that the two parties are reconciled & no longer estranged, thereby making full restoration of that relationship possible. In the situation Jesus refers to in Luke 6, the parties involved have no relationship--they are enemies. The actions Jesus calls for can certainly be accomplished apart from the intimacy of a relationship. Notice that Jesus called for agape, not philos. I can sacrifice something to help my enemy who is in need ("love...do good")...speak favorably of him (instead of maligning him every chance I get, like I'm tempted to do)...and pray for him, quite apart from having a relationship with him. In other words, the other party is still an enemy. He will remain such until he repents of his hostility towards me, at which time I will forgive him and a relationship can be established.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Appreciate your response, Ed. That helps.
Jay, I think part of what makes the question a bit difficult for me as that although we are instructed to forgive "as God forgives/forgave," the statement doesn't necessarily mean "our forgiving should be like God's in every way." That then raises the question, "like God's forgiveness" in what way?

Again, looking at forgiveness as away of behaving toward someone (in mind as well as outward actions), if I treat him/her as forgiven, then he/she is forgiven with respect to my half of the relationship, regardless of whether he's repentant.
Perhaps for clarity it's best to not use the word "forgive" in that context and go with "overlook" or "forbear." I'm not sure. As Ed pointed out, it's not always possible to do this. Sometimes, in an ongoing relationship, you have responsibilities that preclude allowing a person to continue to treat you a certain way (as an extreme example, you can't let somebody keep hitting you). And avoiding/preventing that involves not interacting with this person in a "forgiven" sort of way until repentance has occurred. In that case, you can't let your guard down, which would seem to be a way of not treating this person like you have forgiven him.
I may be confusing categories here, but I'm not sure. If you treat a person who has wronged you like you do not trust him, can he not accurately complain that you have not forgiven him? If forgiving is a releasing of a person from what they owe you (for their offense)...

I'm out of time and mostly thinking out loud here. I want to think it through because I want to be able to properly apply principles to the whole range of real world scenarios

Ed Vasicek's picture

Matt Walker wrote:
You are mixing the forgiveness of God in saving a sinner with the forgiveness between sinful men. Is there a reason for you to do that? Are there any Scripture passages that allow for that?

Moreover, in Luke 6 in reference to our enemies (surely as they are enemies they will never ask our forgiveness for anything) we are told to love, do good, bless, and pray for them. I’ll ask again: how can you do that and not forgive them?

Dear Matt,

I don't know if my answers are satisfying you, but they satisfy me. I believe there are many Scriptures that teach God's forgiveness of us is our model for forgiving others, including Eph. 4:32 "as." The Lord's Prayer presents another such correlation, as does Ephesians 5:1.

As for love, we love our enemies but yet have EMOTIONAL DISTANCE with them, and that love is the love of duty. We love them (in this case love is the duty owed to every human) but at the same time console ourselves that God will bring them to account. Aaron summarized my view well:

Quote:
The actions Jesus calls for can certainly be accomplished apart from the intimacy of a relationship.

I'll paste a brief article I wrote about differing types of love below to make the point:

Quote:
ncient New Testament Greek has about a 6,000-word vocabulary. Common English has a vocabulary of over 75,000 words (not including technical or rare terms). English has by far the broadest vocabulary of any language; my three-volume dictionary lists over 450,000 words! The vocabulary of modern English, for example, is about five times that of modern German.

As a result of such a massive vocabulary, the English language can offer nuances of meaning and word slants beyond the wildest dreams of any other language, including New Testament Greek. This is especially true regarding the common New Testament word for love, "agape." Contrary to what you may have heard, the word "agape" is not unique to the New Testament at all. It was used in common Greek language much as we would use our English "love." The other Greek word for love, "phileo," is truly a special word, but "phileo" is used sparingly in the New Testament and its meaning, "brotherly love," is self-explanatory. "Agape" can mean anything from "niceness" (as in 1 Corinthians 4:21) to the self-sacrificing love of God (John 3:16) and the whole spectrum in between.

In all languages, particularly those with a small vocabulary, words may change meaning depending upon their context. I could say, "The boy threw the ball," or "The princess went to the ball," or "The kids who went to Camp Emmanuel last week had a ball." The context tells the reader which definition of "ball" I mean. Though the word "love" is not defined in radically different ways, the context does color the meaning of the word.

We do not love our enemy in the same way in which a man is to love his wife. The distinction is not determined by the word "love" but rather by its implications in the context. With that in mind, let me survey some of the key differences between several types of love in Scripture. I will use our vast English vocabulary to demonstrate what I believe to be the different natures of love.

1. The love of God for us is the love of redemption. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.") God Himself becomes a man to die for our sins. We might call this the love that sacrifices oneself for another, the love that gives of oneself, or SACRIFICIAL LOVE.

2. A man is to love his wife in a way that is also sacrificial, but there is an additional element in the love between spouses. We might call this love a BLENDING LOVE as two lovingly function as one. A man puts his wife above himself (Ephesians 5:25-28) while a woman tries to learn how to love her husband (Titus 2:4).

3. The parent-child love and affection is described for us in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8. ("But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.") We can call this a BONDING LOVE. The parent-child bond should change as the child matures; though it changes form it can remain deep. At marriage a child is to leave the authority of his or her parents and form a new family. Woe to the man or woman who puts parents above spouse. Such misdirection is not the result of a healthy bonding love which releases a child to adulthood.

4. Then there is the love between siblings. Proverbs 17:17 is often misinterpreted, in my view, to teach the concept of sibling rivalry. I understand it to teach that brothers can be leaned upon during difficult times. ("A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.") We can call this a SUPPORTING LOVE or perhaps "a love of reliance."

5. The love of close friends is a love many people sadly never experience. David and Jonathan were unique in this regard they exemplified an intense form of the LOVE OF COMRADERY. (1 Samuel 18:1 "After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathon became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.") Soldiers sometimes experience this love as they risk life and limb for a buddy. "He's not heavy, he's my brother."

6. Fellow Christians are to be known for their love one for another (1 John 2:10, 16-18). We are to do good to all, but fellow believers are a priority. (Galatians 6:10 "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.") This is FELLOWSHIP LOVE. We have the Lord in common, and His love binds us together. Incidentally, it is this type of love which is addressed in the famous "love" chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.

7. The Bible commands us to love our neighbor, as illustrated in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:36-37). We could call this love a CONCERNED LOVE. Rather than pass by, we show a level of care.

8. Last in my list is the command to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44; 7:9 "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.") This command tells us to obey the Golden Rule even for those we do not get along with, those who have wronged us. Love in this case is certainly not a feeling, though in all of the above with the exception of loving our neighbor, perhaps feelings are involved. In reality, loving our enemy is a love in contradiction to our feelings. This love is the LOVE OF DUTY.

It isn't always easy to love others, but God demands nothing less. And we would be wise to make it easier for others to love us!

This is how I see it.
Thanks,
Ed

"The Midrash Detective"

Jay's picture

Matt Walker wrote:
Moreover, in Luke 6 in reference to our enemies (surely as they are enemies they will never ask our forgiveness for anything) we are told to love, do good, bless, and pray for them. I’ll ask again: how can you do that and not forgive them?

Because they're still enemies. If they would repent of their offense - whatever it is - then they're not enemies anymore, are they? Paul repented for calling the High Priest a whitewashed wall, but he did it because he was not aware that he was a 'ruler of the people'. When he was aware of his sin, his behavior and attitude changed immediately, but that doesn't mean that the High Priest was reconciled to him or Jesus (for that matter). We SHOULD be willing to forgive whatever offense immediately because of the forgiveness that we have in Christ (see http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=Matthew+18 ]the parable of the unforgiving servant ).

It's in spite of the fact that they are our enemies that we are called to love, do good, bless, etc.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Daniel's picture

Hey Aaron. Your first paragraph is exactly what I was trying to ask early on. What does Eph 4:32 mean? I am not sure we can just make a 1-1 relationship between our forgiveness and the forgiveness God does. For if there is any difference between the two, then something else must be what is meant. Perhaps what is meant by us forgiving as God forgives is when we forgive (whether you believe in conditional or unconditional) we practice Ps 103:12, 'As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.' Or we forgive unconditionally, meaning, we don't require some sort of peace offering to forgive, once you repay what you stole then I will forgive you. (did the king require the servant to repay the debt? This does not mean there are not consequences or that he is off the hook for the offense, just that he is forgiven.)

Regarding the latter half of your post (others have said similar things as well), I think this is one of the underlying differences between someone who believes in conditional vs unconditional. I don't think forgiveness and putting your guard down are the same thing, as many seem to be saying. Or that forgiveness requires putting your guard down. Nor do I think forgiveness requires not turning someone in to the authorities, nor do I think it requires that there be no punishment.

So, I think the major underlying difference is whether or not repentance is required for a man to forgive another man.

Jay's picture

Quote:
So, I think the major underlying difference is whether or not repentance is required for a man to forgive another man.

Yup, I think you hit the nail on the head. I'd say Yes, it is required.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

MShep2's picture

Jay C. wrote:
Quote:
So, I think the major underlying difference is whether or not repentance is required for a man to forgive another man.

Yup, I think you hit the nail on the head. I'd say Yes, it is required.
As someone stated above, we must interpret the shorter or less complete passages using the longer, more complete ones. Luke 17:3-4 seems to be clear when it says "if he repents, forgive him." I have not seen any references which say "forgive him whether he repents or not." Until then, I am going to stick with the principle found in Luke 17.

Someone else said (above) that the problem is some define "forgiveness" as a feeling rather than a decision or transaction between persons. Clearly when God forgives us, it does not mean He simply changes His feelings for us. He judicially declares us free from the guilt of that sin and "cleanses us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Giving up wrong feelings is necessary if you harbor bitterness toward someone or you are seeking vengeance. However, this is not the same as forgiveness even though it many times occurs at the same time.

MS
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Luke 17:10

Daniel's picture

MShep2 wrote:
Jay C. wrote:
Quote:
So, I think the major underlying difference is whether or not repentance is required for a man to forgive another man.

Yup, I think you hit the nail on the head. I'd say Yes, it is required.
As someone stated above, we must interpret the shorter or less complete passages using the longer, more complete ones. Luke 17:3-4 seems to be clear when it says "if he repents, forgive him. I have not seen any references which say "forgive him whether he repents or not." Until then, I am going to stick with the principle found in Luke 17.

Someone else said (above) that the problem is some define "forgiveness" as a feeling rather than a decision or transaction between persons. Clearly when God forgives us, it does not mean He simply changes His feelings for us. He judicially declares us free from the guilt of that sin and "cleanses us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Giving up wrong feelings is necessary if you harbor bitterness toward someone or you are seeking vengeance. However, this is not the same as forgiveness even though it many times accompanies it.


Mark, at least in my mind, this does not contradict unconditional forgiveness. Let me say this, from what I have seen, there seems to be at least two groups within the unconditional camp, those who believe we forgive even before someone asks for forgiveness(I am pretty sure I don't agree with this) and those who believe forgiveness is always granted whenever a person asks. And I think the latter fits with the Luke passage. For what does it mean for a person to repent, practically? (this is another pivotal question) And who are they repenting to?

As a side, people keep saying how others are confusing forgiveness with a feeling, where is this and can someone clarify this position? I don't understand it.

Duane Braswell's picture

What happened to "do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with love." If you love your brother's how are you any better than the pharisees, do they also not do this?" Where is the need for confrontation if forgiveness is based only on them seeking us out to ask for it?

I did not seek the Lord, he sought me. "we love him because he first loved us." Have we read the end of James? we go to the brother that is in sin. This whole line of discussion sounds IMO cold and unloving. It sounds like a justification of why I did not forgive my brother. You say you love God whom you can not see but you do not love your brother who you can see. I still remember the old Sheffy (sp?) video where the boy returned to ask for forgiveness for burning down the tents. the preacher told him how thrilled he was for seeing him, because he had forgiven the boy years ago, not even knowing who he was. Sheffy was thrilled to be able to forgive him in person.

Ed I read your paradigm
1. We forgive someone when they verbally ask for it. In many instances, we just move on and put the matter out of our minds. This is the most common type of forgiveness we exercise.

2. In more serious situations, this might be the beginning of the process. If the situation involves a serious or repeated breech of trust, we are now choosing to move forward and we are allowing the person a chance to re-establish credibility, and are hopeful that he will. Think of the early church's struggle to forgive and accept Saul of Tarsus.

3. We trust someone when they have re-established credibility. Sometimes a Barnabas may take the risk of trusting one earlier than the rest of us might. That's okay, as long as we are open.

#2 and #3 implies that we are holding their sin in our hearts against them. This leads to bitterness. The 'victim' of the sin suffers while the sinner walks around fine.
#1 implies that forgiveness is done over trivial matters that we did not need to address, we put it out of our minds. If I feel a need to ask for forgiveness then it is probably not trivial to me.

#2 you wait for the person, forgive them is the beginning of the forgiveness process? um, should it not be the end, death is the end of the dying process. What more did you want of the sinner, they asked for forgiveness. That is enough for God. Now if you are discussing the process of restoration. Forgive them and then begin working on restoring the relationship to where it should/could be.

#3 is trust, not forgiveness. I have forgiven many people that I do not trust. A man steals, I forgive but do not let him watch my money. Do we allow an abuser to watch our children? ever? I'd say not, it is the consequences of their sin.

Forgive, quickly, easily, often. offer the restoration of a relationship, trust is built up later in every relationship, even our kids have to earn trust. But if forgiveness comes only when they are ready to crawl over here and ask for it. Well, then Christianity is no better than the rest of the religions.

Jesus came and sought us out to forgive us. I will follow that paradigm.

He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent. - Augustine

Ed Vasicek's picture

Duane said:

Quote:
What happened to "do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with love." If you love your brother's how are you any better than the pharisees, do they also not do this?"

Duane, nothing happened to this verse. But you cut the verse in half. What do you do with the first half?

Quote:
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I integrate the first and last half of this verse into my paradigm. I believe in doing right, even with my enemies, and not stooping to their level. Right now, I don't know if I have any personal enemies -- at least not bad ones-- and I hope I never will. I have had experiences with people I do not like and have struggled with hating people in the short term. I am fortunate that way. But I would have no guilt about doing what duty demands for my enemies (Exodus 23:4 sort of things) and then taking consolation that they will answer to God. I feel this way about Osama Bin Laden, for example. And I have no twinge of guilt. But if I were a prison doctor and Osama were in prison and in pain from a gall bladder, I would do my best to perform a good surgery.

Please explain: how do you integrate the first part of this verse or the Revelation 6:9-11 verses cited above into your paradigm?

I think that there are some concepts we are leaving out. One is emotional distance. Reconciliation implies WARMTH and goodwill. "Forgiveness" with emotional distance
is what takes the spark out of many marriages, for example. I would argue that what is on the line here is honesty with one's self. We are not robots. We do not want to cheapen reconciliation or restoration through word games. We do not want to say "Peace" when there is no peace because we are under the delusion that God demands
an instant on/off switch be thrown. We can decide to forgive, but our emotions and trust do not necessarily follow, so we have to be honest to ourselves about where we are at.

In 2 Kings 24:4, we read:

Quote:
For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD was not willing to forgive.
If not forgiving a sin makes one bitter, then can we say God is bitter in this context?

My argument is simple: Above all else, we must be HONEST with ourselves and how we feel. Pressure to deny our feelings and thoughts --- because we wrongly believe we must instantly forgive any offense, no matter how grievious -- causes us to go underground in our own hearts. The whole unconditional forgiveness paradigm is an invitation to personal dishonesty and denial, IMO. It short-circuits genuine forgiveness and replaces it with a superficial counterfeit.

To answer some of your other comments, brother, I think that forgiveness varies. Certainly you must admit that in some cases, complete reconciliation is impossible, yet a certain level of forgiveness is (e.g., child molesting). In other instances, the hurt party needs time to recover, as in a marital affair, for example. And sometimes experiences happen that convince us to avoid a person because he is a fool (Proverbs 22:24).

Hermenutically, I would suggest that the issue is whether we embrace a paradigm that includes ALL the information or just some of it, one that distinguishes between summary statements and more extensive teachings.

"The Midrash Detective"

Daniel's picture

Ed, I don't want to speak for everyone on the unconditional side, but I don't think anyone is saying that you suppress your feelings and thoughts, although some feelings no matter the offense are never correct, hatred for example. (Mark, is this what you meant in regards to your comment about people making it about feelings?)

MShep2's picture

Matt Walker wrote:
.....What about Luke 6:27-36? How should we treat those who hurt us? Jesus says (1) love them, (2) do good to them, (3) bless them, and (4) pray for them. Now how can I love someone, do them good, bless them, and pray for them, and not forgive them at the same time? Suppose a man hits me in the face and then he says to me, “I’m glad I did it and I’d do it again if I had the chance.” Clearly, he’s not repentant. What if he steals my coat and says, “I’m glad I did it and I’d do it again if I had the chance.” How should I treat him? Shouldn’t I love him in return offering up the other cheek and offering up my shirt? By the way, isn’t this how God is toward those who are ungrateful and evil? I do not see how it is possible that I can “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” and not forgive someone.

I think that if we boldly applied this to our own situation we would be more apt to forgive…even those who would rather die than say “I’m sorry.”

John3:16 says, "God so loved the world" or as some translate it, "This is how God loved the world." God loves us with His infinite love and yet doesn't forgive us until we repent and ask for forgiveness. Not forgiving someone who has not repented ≠ being unloving, doing bad to someone, cursing someone or refusing to pray for someone. We can do all of these things for the someone who has done the worst things to us but this does not necessitate that we forgive the person until he has repented.

In regards to mercy, God is merciful to all, even those who reject Him and refuse to repent and accept Christ as Savior. However even though God loves an unsaved person, is merciful to him, and provides him with many blessings, he will still die and go to hell if he does not repent of His sin, ask God for forgiveness and accept Christ as Savior.

MS
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Luke 17:10

MShep2's picture

Duane Braswell wrote:
.......2. In more serious situations, this might be the beginning of the process. If the situation involves a serious or repeated breech of trust, we are now choosing to move forward and we are allowing the person a chance to re-establish credibility, and are hopeful that he will. Think of the early church's struggle to forgive and accept Saul of Tarsus.

3. We trust someone when they have re-established credibility. Sometimes a Barnabas may take the risk of trusting one earlier than the rest of us might. That's okay, as long as we are open.

#2 and #3 implies that we are holding their sin in our hearts against them. This leads to bitterness.....

No, it doesn't. You are equating holding bitterness and/or seeking revenge with not forgiving someone who has sinned against you. It is wrong to have sinful thoughts and feelings towards someone who has wronged you; but repenting of those thoughts/feelings, praying for the person, and trusting God that He will make all things right in the end ≠ forgiving that person.

MS
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Luke 17:10

MShep2's picture

Daniel wrote:
Ed, I don't want to speak for everyone on the unconditional side, but I don't think anyone is saying that you suppress your feelings and thoughts, although some feelings no matter the offense are never correct, hatred for example. (Mark, is this what you meant in regards to your comment about people making it about feelings?)
Right. People are hurt when someone sins against them, and it is not wrong to be hurt. As part of the reconciliation process the offender needs to acknowledge and apologize for hurting someone.

However hating someone and wishing for his grand failure or death is sin. And when people release those sinful, hateful feelings they feel much better themselves, but this is not the same as forgiveness.

MS
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Luke 17:10

RPittman's picture

Ed, I fully understand and appreciate your position. It does seem to have some Scriptural support. Yet, there are other passages that seem to indicate forgiveness without repentance on the offender's part. It seems that in some cases you do and in some cases you don't. In fact, I believed much as you do until recently. I was unable to reconcile my belief with some other Scripture passages. I would appreciate your perspective on the following:

"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 your trespasses. [emphasis added ](Mark 11:25-26)."

correlate with

"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew6:14-15)."

"So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (Matthew 18:35)"

"To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; (2 Corinthians 2:10)"

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Matt Walker's picture

The “if he repents, forgive him” does not mean “if he doesn’t repent, don’t forgive him.” This is one of the logical fallacies that D.A. Carson addresses in his book, Exegetical Fallacies. I’d give you the page number if I hadn’t lent my copy to my dad. To reverse the meaning is to read into the text something that it just does not say. Using that logic you would conclude that this statement: “if someone asks for a cookie, give it to him” also means “if he doesn’t ask for a cookie, don’t give it to him.” Obviously the one does not necessarily decide the other. Our Lord is just saying that if we confront someone with their wrong against us, and he repents, that we should forgive him. No where does He say, “if he does not repent then you should not forgive him.”

That doesn’t mean that his lack of repentance will not have further consequences either. He may end up under church discipline (Matthew 18). But to conclude that it is okay to withhold forgiveness based on this text is seriously suspect, IMO.

The same exegetical fallacy is employed in reading The Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” to be I am repenting of my trespasses and therefore I will forgive those who trespass against me and repent to me as I have to You.” The one reading does not necessarily work the other way.

BTW: if you haven’t read Carson’s book, it is well worth your time…. I read it twice. It was embarrassing to think through the many times I’ve used faulty logic, read my own opinions into the text, or twisted it to mean something it doesn’t. Hopefully, I do less of that in the future. 

Matt Walker's picture

I wonder if some of the confusion is the difference between reconciliation and forgiveness. Obviously, if someone sins against me and will not repent of it our relationship will be strained. I say that I would still forgive him...unconditionally. That doesn't mean we'd be reconciled.

Perhaps my separating the two is the reason for some of the confusion...at least on my part. Am I wrong to separate those out? Does anyone else see it that way?

Daniel's picture

Matt, I see it this way as well.
Reconciliation is a two way street. But forgiveness is one-way. Repentance is one way. This is why I said the underlying difference is whether or not repentance is required for forgiveness. But really, it should be, is genuine repentance required for forgiveness? Or what level of repentance is required for forgiveness?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

OK, just to see if I understand...

One view we have represented here (Ed's) is
a. We can forgive unilaterally, and in many situations should, but are not required to across the board
b. The condition of repentance obligates us to forgive... one seeking forgiveness (synonymous with "repentance" in this case) must be granted it

View two:
a. We must forgive whenever someone seeks it (regardless of whether repentance is evident or not. In this view, seeking forgiveness and being repentant are not necessarily the same?)
b. We must also forgive when a person does not seek it
c. When a person is not repentant, forgiveness must be granted but reconciliation is not possible

I think my summary is still a bit sloppy (would like to get the two views expressed in parallel terms), but am I pretty close?

Am I correct that nobody is saying....
a. In every situation you can only forgive if the offender expresses repentance
b. You can only forgive if the offender comes to you (vs. being confronted by you)

Ed Vasicek's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
OK, just to see if I understand...

One view we have represented here (Ed's) is
a. We can forgive unilaterally, and in many situations should, but are not required to across the board
b. The condition of repentance obligates us to forgive... one seeking forgiveness (synonymous with "repentance" in this case) must be granted it

View two:
a. We must forgive whenever someone seeks it (regardless of whether repentance is evident or not. In this view, seeking forgiveness and being repentant are not necessarily the same?)
b. We must also forgive when a person does not seek it
c. When a person is not repentant, forgiveness must be granted but reconciliation is not possible

I think my summary is still a bit sloppy (would like to get the two views expressed in parallel terms), but am I pretty close?

Am I correct that nobody is saying....
a. In every situation you can only forgive if the offender expresses repentance
b. You can only forgive if the offender comes to you (vs. being confronted by you)

I think this is a point-on summary.

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

Matt said:

Quote:
The “if he repents, forgive him” does not mean “if he doesn’t repent, don’t forgive him.” This is one of the logical fallacies that D.A. Carson addresses in his book, Exegetical Fallacies.

So I guess we are back to the bigger issue, is God's example of forgiveness the standard or not.

If so, the same logic would then apply to I John 1:9. And thus we have verses that really do not mean anything.

The idea of loving our enemy is like that of God's love for mankind in sending his Son (John 3:16) despite the hatred God feels toward us because we are sinners (Psalm 5:4-5). We must HARMONIZE God's viewpoints on these things, not set them against one another. Loving our enemies can be a love that runs contrary to our feelings.

Some good practical places to employ loving an enemy: a divorce settlement, a custody case, a relative who runs off with the inheritance, a crooked politician or criminal. These situations often involve a lack of repentance and forgiveness.

I agree that God does not want us to hate others. He has given us the instruction to confront precisely so we can avoid or work through our hatred. Leviticus 19:16-18 are some of the most important verses in the Bible in this area:

Quote:
'Do not go about spreading slander among your people. " 'Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD. 17 " 'Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. 18 " 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

The 2 Corinthians 2:7 passage is a corrective because the offender had proven himself sincere, and now the church was to forgive him in the fullest sense. 2 Corinthians 2:10 suggests that forgiveness was something that occurred after a time of withholding forgiveness. But note that the church was working through the situation. They started off WRONGLY by forgiving him immediately, in my interpretation, being proud of their willingness to accept such a wrong (I Corinthians 5:2).

Sometimes it takes TIME to work through wrongs, hurts, repentance, and forgiveness. But I think we should be committed to pursue the process and to be as reconciled as we can be.

"The Midrash Detective"

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