Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Forgiving People Who are NOT Sorry About What They Did

I know, you have heard all the modern psycho-babble about "forgiving" people who hurt you when they have not honestly confessed and put forth honest effort to repent of their sins against you. They say, "It will make YOU feel better."

Really? Is forgiveness all about you? What did Jesus say about forgiving people who sin against you?

Luke 17:3-4 is a key passage that quotes our Lord:
"Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him."

What do you think of that? Jesus does not say, "If you brother sins against you just forgive him" but "rebuke him!" In other words, you cannot just lay down and let them run rough-shod over you and everyone else! They need to know what they have done! Let's face it, we and a lot of other people are pretty dense, and unless the offender is awakened to their offense they will go merrily on hurting and offending yet more!

So Jesus' first instruction is this: Don't ignore the sin. Your first duty is to let them know (as graciously as possible, as you would have them graciously rebuke you!)

"Oh, but I hate confrontation!" Who does? But Jesus knows it is NECESSARY!

The next instruction Jesus gives is: "...and if he repents, forgive him."

Let's take a good hard look at this. First of all note that it is unlikely the offender will repent until they become aware of their sin, and the responsibility for that awareness falls on you.

Secondly, "...IF he repents..." Notice Jesus DOES NOT say, " doesn't matter if he repents or not, you HAVE to forgive him." No, Jesus puts the requirement of "...if he REPENTS..." as a CONDITION of forgiveness. Now don't get the wrong idea ("Really? Then I can hold a grudge and bitterness towards them until they do repent?") This is NOT a license to that kind of attitude or behavior! The point is that, just as repentance is the first condition we must meet to be forgiven of God so, too, they should not expect forgiveness in its fullest sense from you just because you are a Christian "and Jesus says you've got to love me and forgive me!"

Once again, forgiveness is not directly about you and your feelings. It is about restoring the relationship and doing so, not by ignoring the sin or excusing it, but by open and honest rebuke and open and honest repentance on their part. Forgiveness is to release from hard feelings, yes, but it is also to release from revenge and to help them overcome their sins!

The point of Jesus' introductory statement ("Take heed to yourselves...") is a warning against "just letting it slide" (while you hold animosity and bitterness against them) AND against setting yourself against any possibility of forgiving them (allowing a root of bitterness to grow in you that will make restoration impossible). Both of these Jesus warns against.

Now we have to deal with the third part: "And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him." No, Jesus is not asking you to be a doormat for them to step on! Notice that this offender "returns to you, saying..." In other words, THEY realize they have messed up again and they ON THEIR OWN come to you and confess their sin against you. This clearly implies THEY ARE AWARE and are TRYING to overcome their behavior. That is a far cry from taking advantage of you. And the main point here of Jesus is that we must be prepared to extend forgiveness to this kind of person, who is trying to change their behavior. (Remember: Repentance is not just feel bad about one's sins but also turning from that behavior and acting in love and rightly.)

Haven't you found yourself at times REPEATING the same sin and having done it shake your head and say, "Now why did I do that? I know it was wrong!" And didn't you hope that the person you sinned against would give you a second, third, fourth,....seventh chance? Then, Jesus would say, give them the grace you would want extended towards you!

So, in summary, forgiveness is dependent upon honest repentance.
If you forgive with out putting forth the effort to correct them you cannot truly forgive them. Why? Because don't love them enough to help them out of their sin.
If you forgive without them acknowledging their sin and putting forth effort to repent then they will see no need to change their behavior/attitude, and you will be allowing them to carry one in their sins. That is not what Jesus wants you to do.
If they confess their sin to you and put out any effort to repent and you DON'T forgive them ("I'll wait until they get it 100% right before I forgive them!") you have already demonstrated that God's love is NOT in you as it must be! Did God wait until you "cleaned up your act" before He forgave you? I don't think so! This is Jesus' warning to you! To not forgive is to IMPRISON them in their sins and that is not the love of God! And Jesus' warning to you is found in the verses just following the Lord's prayer: if you will not forgive people their sins against you, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your sins! Why? Because you haven't repented of your sin of bitterness!

"But what am I supposed to do UNTIL they confess and repent of their sins against me?" Pray for them! Be patient with them! Be ready to restore the relationship! Don't let the pain breed bitterness! Remember God is still working on you and hasn't chucked you yet, so don't give them up as a hopeless case (that is the essence of Jesus' command not to "judge"; it means to pass final judgment as beyond the grace of God)!

So there you have it in a nutshell. Do it Jesus' way and in the right heart attitude and you will understand the power of true forgiveness!


  1. I have a situation involving this issue. Everyone's been telling me to forgive this my father, who abused me as a child. But when confronted, he denies everything saying that "I" am the guilty one.

    1. Clearly, the Father is irresponsible. He is not able to respond as accused. If he were innocent, he would not need to deny anything, nor need to turn the burden of guilt around and point it towards you. He does not know the Way of the Heavenly Father and he cannot give you what you need because he himself does not have it to give. Thus, what may comfort you is to embrace this little piece of enlightenment and place your pity towards him and walk away. You have done your part. Peace to you.

  2. I too was sexually abused. Many religious people seem to go straight to the forgiveness part, without first understanding that their is a lot of other emotions you *might* need to go through before you can even think about forgiving; anger, disbelief, sadness, rationalizing, among others. I feel that you can't forgive until you go through all those other things-but they are uncomfortable for other people to witness-so they encourage you to "forgive and forget" or "why are you still hanging on to that?"

    Swordspirit, there is nothing, NOTHING, you need to feel guilty about. I don't know if I will ever forgive the man who abused me. Being abused as a child affects the very core of your being, it is something that affects everything I do, it affects my ability to have relationships with good and loving people. It's like having a crack in your foundation. You can't just "get over it." I know that God is all forgiving and for now, that is good enough for me. Imperfect as I am, it is all I am capable of at the moment.

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  4. My husband has been very deceitful with situations he breed and hid from me for years. In the very beginning of our relationship, he cheated on me and in turn created a child. He lied to me for 17 yrs,last January he confessed to cheating on me and having a child. His family and himself knew this child was his and they denied it to my face for many yrs.January 2013 he confesses then proceeds to seek out and have a relationship with this 17yr old girl. We have been married for 13yrs and have a 5yr old son together. How can I forgive a sin that has never been repented? It is my duty as his wife to protect him and stand by him, but is it my duty to promote this relationship he now wants to create with his 'daughter' that was based on lies? I keep praying to God for answers ,but I fear my emotions are drowning out his answer.

  5. I'm confused. Jesus' command to our "brother" is not just any Joe blow.... its a fellow believer.

    What should one do regarding a non beliver that's unrepentant???

  6. I'm confused. Jesus' command to our "brother" is not just any Joe blow.... its a fellow believer.

    What should one do regarding a non beliver that's unrepentant???

  7. Good morning. I think the same response Sister Melissa.Calling the nonbelievers to true repentance. "Repent forbthe Kingdom of God is near."

  8. Good morning. I think the same response Sister Melissa.Calling the nonbelievers to true repentance. "Repent forbthe Kingdom of God is near."