Berean Digest

Tavares D. Mathews

Repentance & Forgiveness

There is a school of thought that teaches: “We must forgive people, even if they don’t ask us to”. Such teaching originates from a false idea of who God is and what His Word clearly teaches. There is not a book, a chapter, nor a verse that teaches such. Some have a distorted view concerning God’s love and grace toward humanity. Men cannot do as they please without answering to God. It is understood that some sins carry consequences that are more severe than other sins, but it doesn’t matter if a person kills, steals, lies, deceives, or commits fornication – all sins are against God and are punishable by eternal damnation (Hell) (Rom. 6:23). So to say that a person can sin against another without acknowledging (confessing) the wrong and repenting – and that we must forgive that person anyway is a damning proposition.

We will notice now what the Bible clearly teaches concerning repentance and forgiveness. Repentance means to have a change of mind which will lead to discontinuing the sin(s). Also, repentance will cause ones actions to be conformed to those that are approved by God. Forgiveness means releasing one of a wrong as if they never had committed it. Some suggest that Jesus did such on the cross.

In the first place, when Jesus was on the cross and said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), that forgiveness was contingent upon them repenting from their sins. Peter told those same people at Pentecost that they had crucified the Christ, which caused them to be “pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Notice Peter’s response: Repent! (Acts 2:23,37,38) Why – because they would not be forgiven unless they repented. Forgiveness always comes with a condition, namely, repentance. The same can be seen in the case of Stephen as he is being stone to death. Notice what he cries: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” Acts 7:60. Did God forgive those men who were stoning him from their sins, just because Stephen said forgive them. The text continues to read, “And Saul was consenting unto his death.”(Acts 8:1) Question? Was Saul forgiven of his sins at that time? Well, Ananias the messenger of God didn’t think that he was, because he told Paul, who was perhaps praying, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22:16).

Repentance and forgiveness are inseparable. You cannot have one without the other! Meaning – If I repent, I must be forgiven and if I have been forgiven, that means that I must have repented. God has never and will never forgive a person that does not repent of his sins. David affirmed, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Psalms 32:3-5).

Note the following verses:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22).

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

All sins are against God, but we can and do sin against humanity. When we do, God has given us the proper way to make things right. Notice God’s commandment concerning a brother who sins against another. “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Where in this verse does God say forgive a brother even if he does not ask for forgiveness? Such is at odds with the Scriptures.

If a person wrongs another person, whether it be a spouse, brother, sister, etc., the commandment is the same. If a brother sins against another (we are talking actual sin, not some concocted offense that we may not approve of) and I make him aware of it and he refuses to repent – how can I forgive him? If God has not forgiven him, how can I? Furthermore, how can you say, “I forgive you” when he has not acknowledged that he has done wrong.

Before we continue, please allow me to define what forgiveness means in relation to each other. It should be understood that we cannot forgive in the same manner as God. Our disposition or attitude toward the one who has sinned against us is in view and not the actual forgiveness of sins. For who can actually forgive sins but God? (Mark 2:7)

Again, God cannot and will not forgive a person who refuses to confess his sin and repent of it. Are we greater than God? If a husband sins against his wife and he refuses to acknowledge his fault and repent (have a change of mind and stop doing the wrong) – how can the wife forgive him. Again, if God has not forgiven him how can she? She may continue to pray for him that he changes, but she cannot forgive him. If he refuses to acknowledge those wrongs and sincerely repent of them – he will continue to walk in darkness. Sadly, many will be lost at the judgment because of such matters.

Many have confused continuing to be upset with a person and forgiveness. Just because a person refuses to repent does not mean that we walk around angry with that person. It has been rightly observed that “anger is worse on the vessel in which it is stored than on that which it is poured”. Even before they repent your disposition toward them should be loving and kind. Peter instructed wives that were married to unbelievers that their husbands “may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe

[their] chaste and respectful behavior”                     (1 Peter 3:1, 2). Paul stated that we should be “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). When did/does Christ forgive them/us?

Sin cannot be ignored. A person must repent of their sin when they are rebuked. When they repent – the other person must forgive. Without acknowledgment and repentance a person is still in sin. Some Christians are worshipping God in vain because they refuse to do what God has clearly commanded. Jesus said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3, 5) “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23, 24).How can you worship God when you are not obedient to his Word? This is not an option, it is a command. Thus, if not heeded has eternal consequences.

After a person confesses and repents of sin, we are commanded to forgive. If we refuse to forgive a person, we have sinned and will continue to be in sin until we do forgive. All are precious to God and therefore we must be willing to forgive if we are to be forgiven. “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.” (Matt. 6:14, 15)

The conclusion of the matter is: We are obligated to forgive, but we should not – nay, we cannot forgive a person whom God has not forgiven. Repentance always precedes forgiveness, not vice versa. In the final scheme of things, it is God, not man who ultimately forgives sin. We should thank God!