Repentance & Forgiveness – some common objections

My first post on this subject discussed what I see as the Biblical pattern for forgiveness – forgiveness is to be given after repentance is offered.  I quickly covered how we can see this pattern in the Levitical law of the sacrifices, in the way God forgives us, and in the way Jesus instructs us to forgive others.

This is a very difficult concept for many to grasp, because our culture, over the last how-many-ever years has taught us WRONGLY that forgiveness means that we just “overlook the offense and get over it.”   And the church has bought the lie – telling believers that this is the “Christian” way to respond to offenses.  But my contention is that such an idea is not only wrong, but unBiblical and damaging to the church.

I’d like to spend this post responding to some common objections to what the Bible REALLY teaches about forgiveness…

OBJECTION: But Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”  Doesn’t that tell us that our forgiveness before God is dependent on our forgiveness of others?  If we do not forgive, as you suggest, aren’t we putting our souls in danger?

RESPONSE: You are right in saying that there is some way in which our willingness to forgive others demonstrates whether we truly understand and therefore are able to receive our own forgiveness from the Father.  But look closely at the verses in question (Matthew 6:9-15).  Nowhere do those verses DEFINE what forgiveness is… it’s assumed that we  know what it means, and that’s my main point – OUR MODERN CULTURE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT FORGIVENESS MEANS! We have to abandon our ideas of what it is and go to the scriptures for that definition!

Nowhere does the Bible even infer that forgiveness means “overlooking the sins of others.”  Even God, the One with more mercy than anyone else, does not forgive by overlooking sins!  He can’t because of His just nature –  justice must be done, and to overlook a wrong would be an injustice!

So what DOES it mean when we pray that God will forgive us, as we forgive others?  It means that we are asking God to forgive us WHEN WE REPENT (1 John 1:9, Psalm 7:12, Mark 1:4, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19, 2 Corinthians 7:10, 2 Peter 3:9 ) as we forgive others when THEY repent!  (the parable found in Matthew 18:21-35 is especially helpful here… notice that the forgiven servant was forgiven his debt to his Master WHEN HE REPENTED, but would not do the same for his fellow servant who also repented – THAT hypocrisy was what angered the Master).  What Jesus is speaking to in the Matthew 6:9-15 passage is the very human tendency to hold a grudge even when a person is repentant!  To say, “No, I can NEVER forgive you… even though you say you are sorry!” THAT is the hypocrisy of denying others the same mercy God has given to you, and the exact kind of unforgiveness Jesus is addressing.

OBJECTION: Jesus died “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8), so we should forgive just as He did.

RESPONSE: Yes, absolutely!  Jesus died for us while we were still in our sinful condition.  But He did not FORGIVE US of those sins until we turned to Him in repentance.  If we imply by Romans 5:8 that Jesus automatically forgives us without our response of repentance, then we are saying that when Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:10), He forgave the sins of the world at that moment also.  That is much more akin to Universalism than it is  Christianity.  As Romans 5:8 clearly teaches, Jesus’ death “while we were still sinners” shows His love for us, by providing the only appropriate sacrifice FOR our sins – thereby opening the way to forgiveness which the Father is eager to give to the repentant soul.

OBJECTION: What if the person who has sinned against us never repents or is unable to repent (dead, or in a coma, etc.)?  Then are we just stuck with it?  How can we ever be free of it if we don’t “forgive” (overlook the offense)?  RELATED OBJECTION: Aren’t you acting as Judge in the situation if you refuse to “forgive” (overlook the offense)?

RESPONSE: This objection misunderstands what we ARE to do with offenses against us when a person is unrepentant.

There is no way in which we are “stuck with” the offense and the pain of it, etc. when we follow the example of Jesus in the way HE handed the sinful behavior leveled at Him.  1 Peter 1:21-24 teaches us that Jesus is our perfect example of what to do when we are treated wrongly.  There are 3 simple (not always easy, but simple) steps that Peter outlines:

  1. Do not respond in kind (i.e. insult for insult or injury for injury)
  2. Entrust yourself (and the offense) to God, who judges justly.
  3. Trust in the healing Jesus has provided through His own suffering and death on your behalf.

What is actually happening when we apply Peter’s instruction?  First, we are not allowing a fleshly or self-absorbed retaliation to the injury or sin.  In other words, we are being careful to be angry (at the sin, as God is because wrong has been done…  in fact, God will pour out His WRATH on sin eventually – Revelation 19:15), without sinning (Ephesians 4:26).  For the sake of clarity, let me say it again without the parentheses – The first thing we are doing by not retaliating is to be careful that our righteous anger over the offense does not manifest itself in our own equally sinful response.

The second thing we are doing is giving ourselves and our welfare in the offensive situation to God, the One Who will judge justly.  This, like our initial faith in Christ, is an act of trust.  We are trusting that God will take this, He will handle it rightly, and we no longer have reason or need to hold on to or harbor the offense.  It is in God’s heavenly courtroom now, where He serves as Judge – and we have nothing more to do with it.

OBJECTION: When we refuse to “forgive” (overlook the offense) aren’t we allowing the sinner to control us and therefore losing our freedom in Christ?

RESPONSE: If we are following the pattern Peter lays out for us (1 Peter 1:21-24) as described in the previous response – then we are trusting God to be in control – of the situation and of us as His children. We are actually moving INTO the freedom Christ provides for us by releasing the offense to the righteous judgement of God and walking in personal victory over the feelings of hurt and offense.  Only Christ can provide that, and He does it only through the cross.

FINAL THOUGHTS: A wrong view of forgiveness that flows out of our own disobedience?

I know this way of thinking about forgiveness is stripping the gears of many of you.  But that’s what happens when we approach issues Biblically instead of how we’ve been taught to view them culturally. Our conditioned way of thinking that is unBiblical is challenged and tweaked by what the scriptures really say.  Since the gears are already stripped, I might as well throw in one more related issue…

Our “waiting” for repentance from an offending person should not be done in a non-chalant, unconcerned way.  In fact, we should be pursuing their repentance.  Most have not noticed that the parable of the unforgiving/unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35), which defines forgiveness, comes IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING Jesus’ instruction that we are to go to each other to work out conflict and offenses (read the whole passage here).

Could it be that we’ve defaulted to a definition of forgiveness that means “overlook the offense” because we are so fearful of conflict that we are being willingly disobedient to Jesus’ commands to go to those who offend us?  After all, it’s easier, causes less turmoil, and looks so “nice” and “Christian” (as we’ve come to define it).  But it’s not Biblical.  Not in the least.

There’s no arguing, going to someone who has offended you IS a mess much of the time – Christian or not.  So why would Jesus instruct is to do something that has the potential of blowing up in our faces?  Why? – Out of love for each of us individually and out of love for us corporately as His church!  When we refuse to approach an offense, we are in large part closing the door to the possibility of the offending person’s repentance – which is the very best thing for them! Through the loving confrontation they have the chance to become aware of a sin in their life, and as a result have the opportunity to confess it and be forgiven and cleansed from it (1 John 1:9).  And the person being obedient to carry out the loving confrontation, may just find that THEY were not seeing everything completely clearly and then have the opportunity to confess THEIR OWN sins in the situation.   That is SUCH a loving thing, and a great benefit and sign of health for the church overall!  And should the person initially confronted refuse to repent, then the opportunity is open to follow Jesus’ instruction about church discipline, which opens new doors to the restoration of the sinner and the overall purity of the church!

Like it or not – our view of forgiveness carries HUGE ramifications for the health of the church, Christ’s body and bride.  A wrong view will short-circuit Jesus’ intention for our purity and holiness.  A right view will only strengthen it.


5 thoughts on “Repentance & Forgiveness – some common objections

  1. Pingback: Repentance & Forgiveness (like Peanut Butter & Jelly) « the passionate follower’s journal

  2. Hi Carey,

    Great post. Very thought provoking. Just goes to show how we can’t make assumptions about bible text that isn’t there. That is why it is so important to know the whole bible which most Christians (myself included) don’t.

    I also liked your final thought about pursuing repentence. So many churches are torn apart by misunderstandings between members. If I have to confront someone whenever I feel they’ve sinned, I will be more likely to get my facts straight.

    Thanks for your great posts.

    • Hi Laurie – good to hear from you! I trust things are good (we know God is)…

      Yes, learning to see through scripture’s eyes instead of seeing scripture through culture’s eyes is an ongoing and very difficult battle – but thankfully the Spirit is our Teacher! These few posts are hopefully the beginning of me getting back into writing them on a somewhat regular basis.

      And I’ve decided also that I’m going to leave the political stuff out of my blog – unless there’s something so obvious going on that I feel I have to address it. I just think there is so much of a more “worthy” nature to be writing about…

      See you,

  3. hi’s so cool that you have this website! I just wanted to comment on this topic of repentence and forgiveness. You know I love you as a brother in Christ, but I’m going to have to disagree with you. My dad was an alcoholic. We put our family through a living hell. I don’t know if you remember this, but he passed away while I was only 18 years old. He passed out and never woke up. While sad, my family and I felt a huge burden lifted. What a blessing. Obivously I stuggled with a lot of things and had a lot to work on. One night, when I was 28 years old, I felt a prompting to get out of bed and spend some time with the Lord. Of course I wanted to sleep, so I fought in for awhile. Finally I obeyed. At 2a.m., in the quietness and dim light of our living room, I forgave my dad…out loud. I could literally feel the burden lifting from my body. I felt so light and so at peace. My dad never repented. Now, some years later I felt unforgiveness with my mom for not protecting us. Knowing that she did the best job she know how, I was able to work it out with God. I forgave her and love her so much and have so much compassion for her, although she has never offered repentance. And I don;t need that from her. God is bigger than having people repent before we can forgive them. Anyway, I know i babbled. Thanks for listening.


    • Hi Brenda! So glad to hear from you… you know, this issue is one that has been on my heart a lot, and there’s tons of ways of looking at it (that’s not a cop out, but a reality – I’m beginning to think). What I mean is this… some call it “forgiveness” to give the burden to God (like 1 Peter 1:22-24 says to do), while others don’t. Some call it “forgiveness” to give up your right to be heard or reciprocated, or healed – others don’t. What I’m saying is that some of this is in how you define your terms and what the outcome is of what you do. There’s NO way that I think God wants us to remain bitter, or to hold a grudge, or to make someone pay because they haven’t repented. I think we can carry on relationships just fine, even when repentance is not offered – in most cases (but not all). I think in the end, the RESULT I’d get approaching it the way I do is the same as the result you got in your two situations. I’d be free, no hindrances, no resentment… I know, ’cause I’ve had to do it. And I think in the end, that’s where God wants us all to wind up.

      Having said all that, I DO soooo appreciate you recounting your experiences to me… they enrich my understanding of scripture and life – and I’ll ponder your perspective too! We Pastors have to learn and grow too after all! And we both know that we can disagree agreeably – and that’s a wonderful thing! We love you Brenda and have been and continue to pray for you and yours. Give our love to the family!

What do you think? Share your thoughts & start the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s