Have you received forgiveness? Are you currently forgiven? Would you consider yourself to be a forgiving kind of person? Forgiveness is valuable and powerful...
Some in our culture give little (if any) thought to how they are treating others, and as to the nature of their influence on the people around them. Our Master says, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18:7). Hurting others in this manner is certainly a very serious matter (see Luke 17:1-2), and we should give special attention to how our words/actions affect the spiritual vitality of others. As Christians, we must be extra careful about the influence we have upon other holy ones (1 Corinthians 8:7-13). Let us always remember that we are dealing with a brother or a sister “for whom the Messiah died” (1 Corinthians 8:11), and that sinning against our Christian family is ultimately sinning against our loving Savior (1 Corinthians 8:12). Our influence ought to be carefully guarded, protected, and intentionally used for the spiritual growth of others.
But what happens when someone commits a sin against me (read Matthew 18:15-20)? Jesus tells us to take it first to that person privately. If they will not listen to us, then we are to take along two or three others to serve as witnesses as we bring this matter to their attention. “If they will not listen to them, tell it to the congregation. If he or she refuses to listen to even the congregation, let them be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). We need to realize that not everyone is going to be willing to make amends, that not everyone will choose to do what is needed to bring about reconciliation.
But should we forgive someone even if they do not change their behavior? Some think we are to forgive everyone who sins against us, whether they repent or not. Does repentance matter in this discussion? Do people need to ask for our forgiveness before we actually forgive them? What does God reveal about this question in His words to us? Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Repentance is the proper prerequisite for actual forgiveness to take place.
Let us think about God for a moment... God is willing and eager to forgive all of humanity (see John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4). The Psalmist says to God, “For You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon You” (Psalm 86:5). He offers forgiveness to all (unconditional), but He only gives forgiveness to those who penitently respond to Him (conditional). God only forgives those who are willing to seek His forgiveness, and to faithfully follow His loving will.
We are to shape the way we forgive others from the way God forgives us in Jesus our Messiah (Ephesians 4:32). If we are unwilling to forgive others, then God will not forgive us (Matthew 6:12-15). We must be willing to forgive anyone, and for any amount of time (Matthew 18:21-22). It can be quite difficult, but we are to always forgive others from our heart (Matthew 18:35). However, we must not forgive actual sin against us, if the person is not willing to repent (turn away) from their sin. Now this does not mean we hold a grudge against the person if they are relentless and will not repent, and seek our forgiveness. If they will not repent, then let us let God take care of that, and let us never hold vengeance or ill will toward them in our hearts (see Romans 12:14-21).
Forgiving apart from repentance is not dealing with the issues, and can even be facilitating sinful behavior(s) (cf. Luke 17:1-2). Let us face it...there are some in this world who will not allow reconciliation to take place between them and Deity nor between them and us. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). May we all plant our knees before the cross and the throne of the Lamb, and live each day with the kindness of a tender, broken heart.
For His infinite worth,