Bible Question:

Brother, your article about “Forgiveness” is wrong! In Acts Peter told the Jew to “Repent”. The Word also says, “Unless you repent you will all die. ” You are saying as Christians we should forgive unconditionally? God does not forgive that way. In regeneration by the Holy Spirt we are granted, “Godly Repentance that LEADS TO SALVATION. ” In Luke 17: 3-4 we read from the lips of our Lord Jesus that forgiveness is “conditional. ” There must be repentance and when anyone says they are sorry, we MUST forgive. The world has this false forgiveness - to forgive one that has done hideous things to you or your family and is not sorry, we say we forgive? God doesn't do that and He does not expect us to do it either! I like your site, your Statement of Faith.

Bible Answer:

How do you respond to Jesus’ statement, while He was hanging on the cross, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” in Luke 23:34? This is an example of God forgiving someone without waiting for repentance. When dealing with a topic such as forgiveness, one must consider all of the scriptural statements about forgiveness. This is a strong counter example to the all inclusive statement that one must only forgive another when the offender has repented. It is strong because we understand the context. The Jewish leaders and Roman leaders and soldiers did not repent. In fact the scriptures reveal the Jewish leaders were gloating and contentious while He was on the cross.

In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. Matthew 27:41-44 (NASB)

They were not repentant. Yet, Jesus asked the Father to forgive them. It was an act of love. That is the message of Matthew 5:44,

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . Matthew 5:44 (NASB)

Jesus did not hold their actions against Him personally. Stephen did the same thing when he was being stoned. Look at Acts 7:59-60.

They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60 (NASB)

Personal v.s. Judicial Forgiveness

There is a difference between personal forgiveness and judicial forgiveness. It is important to not confuse the two biblical principles. Luke 17:3-4 actually teaches both. Luke 17:3 teaches the principle of judicial forgiveness. The same principle is taught by our Lord in Matthew 18:15-18. We call it church discipline. That is, when we discover that a brother or sister is caught in a pattern of sin, we need to confront them in order to restore them – to help them stop sinning. In this situation, forgiveness follows their repentance. Let’s examine Jesus’ words in Luke 17:3.

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. Luke 17:3 (NASB)

Jesus echoes the same principle He taught in Matthew 18:15-18. That is, if we observe a fellow believer in sin, we are to go to him or her and lovingly seek to restore him or her to a godly pattern of holiness. In Matthew 18 Jesus teaches that the process of church discipline continues until repentance occurs. It starts after someone sees the sin and then in loving concern confronts the one who has committed the sin. Then if the one who committed the sin does not repent, the process continues until he does repent. When he repents, the process stops and forgiveness is granted. In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul had to rebuke the Corinthians for not practicing church discipline. He challenged them to confront sinning believers. Then the church did. Later in 2 Corinthians 2 Paul once again had to rebuke the church. The second rebuke was necessary because the church did not forgive the man after he repented.

Luke 17:4 teaches personal forgiveness when the offense is personal.

And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. Luke 17:4 (NASB)

Notice that Jesus says, “sins against you” this time. He did not say that in verse 3. When Jesus was on the cross, Jesus modeled this biblical principle. When we are offended, we are to always forgive. Stephen was also an example of this biblical principle. This does not mean that the principle of church discipline should be ignored if their is a pattern of sin.

Conclusion:

Judicial forgiveness is on behalf of the church and personal forgivenss is a personal response. Scripture teaches that I should always forgive the offender when the offense is against me. But if I observe a brother in sin, then I am to go him and loving confront him to encourage him to flee his sin. Galatians 6:1 is the principle for confrontation and Matthew 18:15-18 outlines the process.

Reference Links:

Peace With God
Forgiveness: Is It Missing?
A Forgiving Heart
Dealing With Gossip
When Another Offends
Church Discipline