Friday, May 06, 2011

FORGIVENESS BY CHRISTIANS IS A COMPLICATED MATTER

One Christians said the following in a Facebook discussion. Here she is clarifying what she meant about forgiveness being for us: "I meant that it doesn't help their (the one who sins against us) forgiveness with God. It has to do with our own forgiveness with God."

Here is my response to this lady: I now understand what you are saying. Unless we forgive others, we will not be forgiven. Indeed, the Scriptures ...teach that the harsh or tender approach we take with people will be shown to us by God. I agree with your point which relates to a general principle from God.

But God has also given a number of specific things to consider which also relate to our own forgiveness from Him. God doesn't offer blanket forgiveness to us just because we offer blanket forgiveness to all who haven't even repented. God remains true to His just ways. He will not forgive the unrepentant. Now if we do not forgive the unrepentant, we can expect that God will not forgive us IF we are unrepentant. God applies the same righteous standard to us that we apply to others. No harm is done to the teaching on forgiveness. So the principle to which you speak is true EVEN when speaking of these more specific caveats on this topic. If we want God to forgive us when we repent, then we must forgive our Brothers who repent.

Here's another example of applying your point to specifics, God instantly forgives His children who sin but who are walking in the light (1 Jn 1:6ff). The blood of Christ continually cleanses those who walk in the light. Our repentance is still necessary and we perhaps don't address the trespass until much later when it comes to our attention. A person of faith, with a tender heart for God, will do this when made aware of his trespass. But God knows the heart and forgives those who sin. And in similar pattern, when a good Brother trespasses against us, we forgive instantly but we still address the issue at the first opportunity and we will surely get the repentant response we expect. But sometimes, a Brother is intending to harm us and is not in the right spirit. These are not instantly forgiven because true forgiveness brings or continues the relationship, this isn't possible without going to your Brother and asking him to repent.

So the verse you allude to, Dawn, is vital for us to know and practice. Forgive others if you want God to forgive you. The only thing I would add is that we forgive HOW and WHEN God forgives others.
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Consider the consequences of forgiving someone who is unrepentant and you will see it's not helpful to anyone. Suppose your long time neighbor breaks into your garage and steals your tools and other valuables. Let's say he's not sorry but you forgive him. So what. You have an attitude of forgiving and you say to yourself that you forgive him. So what. Is anything really changed? If you invite the unrepentant thief into your home, then you may be following through on your forgiveness but it hasn't helped a single person - not even you. You have decided to jeopardize your property again, you have exposed yourself to an enemy, you have cast your pearls before the swine, you have forgiven someone that God hasn't forgiven. This unconditional, "radical" forgiveness is unproductive, unhelpful, and unscriptural. This is not what Jesus was doing on the cross. Those He prayed for still had their sins retained unless they repented. So it's not really, just about the forgivER, it's about the sinner and their repentance too.
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The Scriptures don't tell Christians to be forgiving the unrepentant. Christian forgiveness is extraordinary in the world, to be sure, but it's not contradictory to how God forgives us. There is a time to "retain sins". The reality is that forgiving the unrepentant is foolish and possibly even dangerous. Forgiveness is about restoring relationships, and while we might feel good about ourselves for "forgiving" the unrepentant, nothing is resolved as in true repentance and forgiveness. We should pray like Jesus and we should pray with the intent of Jesus that forgiveness and restoration be brought to all, but that forgiveness can only be realized as in Acts 2 when the crucifiers of Jesus repented.

Here's what Jesus said is the process: Someone commits a trespass against us. We go to that someone pointing out their trespass and calling for them to change. If they change, then we forgive. If they don't change, then the relationship is still damaged and unrestored. To forgive at this juncture means nothing. If we feel good about forgiving the unrepentant, it's just for us. God hasn't forgiven the person. And the sinner/trespasser isn't restored to us. In their unrepentant mind, the "gift" we have given them is like pearls to a swine.

Should we learn from the challenge to be more forgiving, to start extending true forgiveness? Most definitely we should. But there's a Biblical imperative to first approach the sinner and call for them to repent. If they don't, keep loving and praying for them, but don't forgive them.
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