Not forgiveness again.

Ok so here is the thing, I think we can get a bit sick of forgiveness. Whenever we talk about forgiveness there always seems to be an uneasiness about the demands a discussion about forgiveness can place on us. We can often feel like if we talk about it then we need to do it, and well that is just something I can’t do. And when another conversation comes up on the subject of forgiveness we flee. But not this time, let’s talk about it.


Now recently I became part of a conversation about forgiveness, and probably it was best to let sleeping dogs lie but I didn’t. The conversation centred around when should we forgive.

My conversation partner had his thesis, “Forgiveness should only be enacted when the person who did the wrong repents and asks for it.” Or said differently, “I don’t need to forgive you if you don’t ask.”Now I can understand where he is coming from, If we forgive someone who is not repentant then we end up with egg on our face and our relationship with the person is still in the same place it was before; broken. I think there is more to it, but let’s leave that for another time.

But as I think about forgiveness I am drawn to Jesus on the cross. And the question that I’m left with is this; Did Jesus forgive our sins on the cross or not? Now my conversation partner would say, “only if you repent and ask Jesus for forgiveness, otherwise he didn’t, well at least not for you.” And so in my mind we have two ways to look at forgiveness and Jesus on the cross.
My view of forgiveness and the crucifixion is this; On the cross Jesus died once for all. It was an event that occurred in time but it was an event that also infiltrated all time; hence forgiveness is available to anyone before of after the cross. Now Jesus on the cross forgave all sin, he did it, when he said it is finished, it really was. Now where I would differ from my conversation partner is here; Forgiveness is freely given whether people are aware of it or not. What makes or breaks it is whether we freely receive it or reject it. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “the door of hell is locked from the inside.”
But I understand that my view is a view and an incomplete one at that. As I read through Scripture it seems that there is space for both views, it seem that it maybe a both and scenario. And so below I’ve listed some verses that deal with forgiveness. For each verse I’ve put a (Me) at the beginning if it supports my view and a (partner) if it supports my conversation partner’s view. Once you’ve read through the list make up you own mind, is it one or the other, or a both and? I would love to hear what you think.

Now I just need to point out though that there is a spanner in the works. It seems that there is also another view, quite strong and in some sense off-putting view. It is the view that forgiveness is only given if we forgive those who sin against us. Darn it. Here goes the dreaded, “if we talk about it then we need to do it.” part. I will put a (do it) at the beginning of these verses.

(Do it) “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”(Luke 6:37 NIV11)

(Do it) “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12 NIV11)

(Do it) “14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14–15 NIV11)

(Partner) “ 3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”” (Luke 17:3–4 NIV11)

(Me) “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”” (Luke 23:34 NIV11)

(Partner) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NIV11)

(Me) “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6 NIV11)

(Me)“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV11)

There is a whole lot more found in the Scriptures but this will give us enough to go on. What do you think, which view sits with you the most, or is it a both and? And does any of these views make forgiveness easier to digest and enact? What do you think?


7 thoughts on “Not forgiveness again.

  1. Wow. I am literally just about to write a post asking this EXACT question, and I decide to go searching to see if anyone else is doing the same thing… and find this post. Creepy.

    My short and sweet answer is… I don’t know. It is frustrating because of a personal situation where I felt obligated to forgive somebody unrepentant. In an odd way I feel like it was right, and yet I also realize that we can’t receive Jesus’ forgiveness unless we ask for it. But then you read these stories about people like Corrie Ten Boom forgiving their captors, or look at the verse where Jesus says “Father forgive them,” and I get confused all over again.

    1. Hi Yankeegospelgirl,

      Forgiveness is tough, and forgiving someone who is unrepentant can often mean that we wear egg on our face. But I think the whole point of forgiveness is that it costs. And the nature of forgiveness means that the cost falls on the one doing the forgiving; What did it cost God through Jesus to forgive humanity? There are a number of passages in Scripture particularly throughout the Gospels where Jesus talks about the cost of forgiveness; The master who forgives the servant an unpayable amount, that costs the master. Unfortunately that story has the servant lock his co-slave up over a tiny debt, even after all he had been forgiven.

      I think for me where the rubber hits the road is here; Those who have been forgiven much find it easier to forgive others.Those who have been forgiven little find it hard to forgive others. And so the question that we ask is what is Jesus death worth to me, what did it cost him? And by that I mean what did Jesus forgive me for on that cross, and how does that compare to what I have to forgive someone here on earth? How we answer that will then affect how we forgive others.

      Freely we have received, freely we give. But it’s not easy, and it does cost.

      So that is my thinking out loud, what do you think?

      1. Well, I have had time to mull over a number of excellent answers to the post on my blog. Somebody suggested that there could be a distinction between “forgiving someone in your heart” and verbally saying “I forgive you.” The former may be beneficial and in fact necessary for your own spiritual health, but it is not quite the same as telling the person, “Well, you sinned, and you weren’t sorry, but I forgive you anyway,” which might harm the relationship. Forgiveness in your heart means you are ready for reconciliation, but reconciliation can only happen when both parties are willing. One distinction that was helpful for me was the difference between forgiveness on a human scale and difference on a divine scale—one can’t necessarily make an exact parallel at every step.

        Another person put it like this: “Christ forgave His persecutors, but not all of them were reconciled to Him, i.e. they did not accept that forgiveness and the graces which accompanied it. So according to that usage of the word “forgiveness”, we can say that God forgives all those who do evil, and thus He is willing to remit all guilt and punishment. But if they do not accept forgiveness, the guilt will remain, and they will still be punished.

        But then, the question is: is forgiveness the WILLINGNESS to remit guilt and punishment, or is it the actual remission itself? It seems it can be understood both ways. But when it’s understood as the actual remission of guilt and punishment, I think that’s where we have problems. So understanding it as the WILLINGNESS to remit guilt and punishment helps resolve our problem.”

      2. Thanks for the reply, It sounds like you have been on quite a journey. I guess all I would say is that Because God has forgiven us we are then given the mission to forgive others and also to proclaim God’s forgiveness of sins to the world. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul talks about God reconciling us to himself and then giving us the mission of reconciliation. So while there is a difference in the magnitude of God’s reconciliation of us to himself, in that he forgave all the sins of all the world, What God did is on the cross is what we are to do as his people. And so what we see modelled and lived out on the cross is basically what we as Christians are to do in the world.

        Also did God keep his forgiveness of our sins quiet? No he told us about it, and it is that telling that makes way for our reconciliation. Imagine if God forgave our sins but didn’t tell us that he’d done it; we’d still be in our sins, none the wiser, not reconciled. So I really think that forgiving in the heart, needs to be followed by the verbal declaration that “I have forgiven you and am prepared to relate to you as if this didn’t happen.” or something like that. Now that may be rejected, but at the same time you open up the possibility of full repentance and restoration, it’s a risk, but a risk worth taking.

        What do you think? Oh and by the way this is a great chat because it has got me thinking about a lot of things. Also if you want further reading on this topic, then I recommend reading a book all about forgiveness called Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf, it is a tough read, it is real heavy, but if you do get through it then you will be all the better for it, it is sensational.

  2. If we do not forgive the unrepentant, that does no harm to them. It only harms us. My bible study just went over this. Someone mentioned it is like drinking poison in hopes that they will die. Of course, easier said than done. I am in my own hard place where my loved ones around me are just constantly negative and judgmental. This makes it hard to maintain a positive outlook! I realized that it is always the hypocrites who annoy me most. It brings to mind “judge not lest ye be judged”… but then what am I if I am judging someone who is judgmental? Ahh the paradox… What are your ways of dealing with loved ones (friends or family) who are always putting others down, not intentionally or in a mean way, just by being negative?

    1. Well said. In terms of dealing with people who are always negative or derogatory, put-downers, I try and be the alternative, and if I can I do challenge their behaviour, but again easier said than done. Again another tough thing, but needs to be done, is to not give in and join in the negativity. What do you think?

      1. I totally agree! I have been trying to counter their negativity or at least call them out on it (because they don’t realize how often they do this) but after a while I have started to realize how NEGATIVE I am toward them! It is very hard to find balance, and I know that no matter how good a person I am in my heart, I am more than capable of doing bad things without realizing it. It’s a hard life being a sinner…

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