They go together. That’s the main point. Biblically, forgiveness can’t happen without repentance. They are intimately linked. Repentance means to change your mind about the issue – to think differently about it – to change course. And those who sin against us need to have a change of mind about their sin before we are able to forgive them.
But that’s SO backwards from what our culture promotes. We’re told to “just forgive” about everything that happens in life (meaning, “Don’t be upset about it – let it go!”), when the Bible doesn’t characterize it that way at all. I’m not saying we should hold grudges or harbor bitterness – we shouldn’t. But we can’t forgive, as it is defined Biblically, if the one who sinned against us has not repented.
Jesus says so Himself in Luke 17:3-4 – “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” When should we forgive? When repentance is offered.
In reading the book of Leviticus today (through the Bible in a year plan) I noticed this same point. Every time a person recognized their sin (deliberate or accidental) they were told to make a sacrifice for it. Then and only then were they forgiven. The sacrifice was the act that SHOWED their repentance.
It’s even more obvious when it comes to eternal forgiveness. The Father does not forgive on a whim… He forgives when we are faced with the price Jesus paid for our sins and repent.
What would it be like if the Father said, “Oh, don’t worry about all those sins – I’ll just forgive you!” He wouldn’t be acting in accordance with His own holiness. He’d be overlooking sin instead of punishing it – which means that He’s not being just, and ultimately that Jesus’ death is meaningless and unnecessary!
You see, Jesus became our substitute on the cross SO THAT the Father could grant forgiveness to those who repent by placing their faith in Christ! Jesus took the punishment that we/our sins deserved – and on that basis alone is the Father able to offer meaningful forgiveness. Not on the basis of our good works or penance (’cause they are not good enough), and not on the basis of a sentimental whim (i.e. because He feels sorry for us). God’s holy character requires sin to be punished, and it was punished in Christ. Therefore, forgiveness is available to all who come to the Father in repentance. There is no such thing as an unrepentant forgiven person!
Carry it out practically. If we were to do what our culture suggests when no genuine repentance is offered by the offender, we’d be overlooking sin and thereby saying that it doesn’t matter… that justice doesn’t matter. Imagine it – your son or daughter is abducted and brutally abused and murdered. Some well-meaning person says, “You are going to have to learn to forgive,” (meaning, “You can’t continue to be upset about this.”) That is ridiculous, because a very real and damaging sin has been committed, and justice demands that it be punished. We CAN’T “just forgive” in those terms. But here is what we CAN do… (and should do)
We can do what Peter instructs in 1 Peter 2:23 – we can take the offense to the Father, entrust it to Him as Jesus did when He was mistreated and reviled (the greatest sin ever committed), and allow the Father (the righteous Judge) to forgive – or not – as HE deems is best (which will flow out of the offender’s repentance or lack thereof). And we leave it there – believing and trusting that God will do what needs to be done in our lives and in the life of the offender.
“Let it go?” Absolutely – If you are letting it go to the Father. “Just forgive?” – only when repentance is offered. To do less is to minimize the seriousness of sin and the price Jesus paid to free us all from it.
You can find a follow-up to this post HERE