For to truly forgive is to return a person to intimate relationship; to treat that person as if they had never committed the offense and never mention to the act anyone again. That type of forgiveness is not easily given, especially when the offender hasn't asked for it. Automatic forgiveness imposes a tremendous burden; one that is not easily accomplished mainly because the God-like spirit within demands justice and truth as well as mercy. Once the offense is completely revealed standing in the light of truth, mercy and grace can avert judgment and invoke forgiveness. But we, like God, find it difficult to deal with unresolved sin or trespass. Although Christ died for the sinner, judgment will fall if there is no repentance. And in like manner, God's judgment stands against those commit offenses toward even the least of His children (Matthew 18:6-8, Luke 17:1-3) and fail to repent about it. Therefore, we do a disservice to the offender, as well, when we do not require them to ask for forgiveness. In like manner, when we do not completely forgive when some one asks for it, we impose an unfair and ungodly burden on the repentant offender. To say that even if someone repents that they must still pay for their offense is an abuse of scripture. We all know that we are sinners saved by grace, but noChristian expects to suffer the fruits of our sin. Because - as in:
Romans 6:23 - the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal Life.
Just as we do not suffer the consequences when we are forgiven of God, we should not sit back and wait for judgment to fall when others have wronged us, if they have repented. While governments may not forgive offenses, Christians are under a stronger mandate thatdemands complete forgiveness when it is sought. Complete forgiveness requires that the pardoner relinquish all rights to expect vengeance. In fact, the believer that grants forgiveness should and will pray that God will bless and help the person that has committed a trespass. (Matthew 5:44) Jesus relates the story of a man that owed his lord a great sum and, when he stood facing judgment, begged for forgiveness. (Matthew. 18:23-34) His master then forgives him and releases him. But the same man when coming across his fellow servant that owed him a small amount takes that man and vigorously punishes him. Jesus states that later, because of this act of pitilessness, the same man has to face judgment from his lord. Jesus goes on to emphasize the nature of complete forgiveness as that which occurs when you - as in:
Matthew 18:35 - from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
Some of you may say I can not forgive these people. You just do not know what they have done to me. But God does not hold our sins, in like manner, against us. But the Psalmist records that - as in:
Psalms 103:12 - As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
Furthermore, remember your own transgressions. God has forgiven you for every wrong, if you have repented. He does not impute our sins to us, but rather by grace andfaith He has justified us, so that we are at peace with Him. (Romans 5:1) This is not to say that there are not consequences from committing sins and trespasses. The child that misbehaves receives a consequence for his behavior despite his admission of sorrow. The person that has an accident may still have to pay retribution despite his confession and statement of regret. King David lost his son born of adultery despite his repentance and prayer for forgiveness. The person that abuses their body with drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or even sexual pleasures may suffer the consequences of that behavior later in life, even if they turn and repent. That result (AIDS, cancer, or some other disease) is not a punishment for their wrong, but merely a natural consequence of the wrongs already committed. If you pour toxic wastes into the water, and later repent and stop doing that it still will not clean up the mess already made. Governments will often hold the wrong doer accountable no matter what his admissions may be. However, the Christian should have compassion and find no pleasure in the punishment or death of the wicked. (See Ezekiel 18: 23,32, 33:11, Psalms 5:4) Rather we should desire to see all men and women saved and forgiven, remembering that - as in:
Matthew 25:40 - Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
What We Believe:
This is a series of teachings on the beliefs and doctrine of the Church of Prayer For All People. Forgiveness may be the hardest thing for Christians and sinners to understand, give, and/or accept, but it is crucial for any of us to have a proper relationship with God and each other. Without forgiveness none of us could stand before the judgment seat of God because we - as in:
Romans 3:23 - all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
However, due to the atoning power of the blood of Jesus Christ we have forgiveness and can - as in:
Hebrews 4:16 - come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
There are two schools of thought on forgiveness that I believe present an incorrect view of true forgiveness.
1 - teaches that people are to forgive whether or not the offender has asked for forgiveness.
2 - teaches that even if the offender asks for forgiveness, they must still "suffer the consequences" as they "reap what they have sown."
We hold that both of these doctrines are errant and detrimental to both the offender and victim. First, when we forgive without requiring the offender to ask for forgiveness and repent, we take on the burden of the people that are unrepentant and the result is not profitable. The Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy exhorted Christian followers not to - as in:
I Timothy 5:22 - Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure.
To forgive the unrepentant is to become a partaker of their sins. When Christ died for us, his act opened the way to salvation. Jesus forgave us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8), and in so doing, He became sin for us. (II Corinthians 5:21) He became a partaker of our sins so that we might have peace with God. (Romans 5:1) But we do not have that commission. The Apostle Paul, when explaining his calling and mission to King Agrippa, stated that he was sent - as in:
Acts 26:18, 20 - To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins....
that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. From these passages we know that to receive forgiveness from God we must ask for it and have a change in attitude. Likewise, these are prerequisites that we should set for each other, which is the reason why we should not allow the unrepentant to avoid his or her responsibility and duty to ask forgiveness. This process is important because by requiring others to repent for acts they commit towards us we are enjoined to ask forgiveness from God. Often, believers take for granted the forgiveness provided by the Grace of God. However, from the earliest books of the Bible to its last, the message is that God waits for and expects people to ask for forgiveness. Jesus, while teaching his disciples about forgiveness, told them the steps to take when someone committed an offense. First, the victim was to tell the offender that he or she had wronged them,
Luke 17:3 - and if the he repent, forgive him.
There are some that preach automatic forgiveness because they say that keeping and remembering offense can weigh heavy on the mind and cause the believer to be estranged from God. But it is not the presence of non-forgiveness when the offender is unrepentant that block a relationship with God, butthe presence of malice, hatred, and/or a desire for revenge. (Isaiah 59:1-2, I Peter 2:1, Romans 12:19) God does not expect us to receive and forgive an unrepentant person that has wronged us. However, he does expect us to lay aside any ill feelings, hatred, and malice we might have for the individual. Moreover, He wants our relationships to be free of deceit, pretense and hypocrisy. When people are instructed to automatically forgive someone, it often leads to a state of false friendship.