The Bible proves that God only forgives us, if we meet certain conditions. One important condition is repentance. God does not forgive us, if we refuse to repent. Today, God has only called comparatively few and is not yet judging the rest of the world. This means, God has not yet forgiven the world, as they have not yet repented, but God does not hold them accountable at this point in time (This is not to say that sin does not have built-in penalties which a sinner will have to pay automatically). Those not called and not forgiven yet are described in Acts 17:30-31: “Truly, these times of ignorance God OVERLOOKED [not, forgave!], but now COMMANDS ALL MEN [those called] EVERYWHERE TO REPENT.” We have to REPENT of our sins before baptism (in addition to accepting Christ’s sacrifice as payment for our sins), even though we might have committed sins in ignorance (compare 1 Peter 1:13-15; Ephesians 4:17-18; 1 Timothy 1:12-13; Acts 3:17). God offers us the gift of repentance, when He calls us, but we must respond to it and accept it (2 Timothy 2:24-26; Romans 2:4).
When the people realized that they had killed Christ, the Son of God, they asked Peter what to do. His response was: “REPENT, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ FOR THE REMISSION [FORGIVENESS, see margin] OF SINS…” (Acts 2:38). Forgiveness of sins FOLLOWS repentance.
It is true that Christ prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Some have said that this Scripture proves that God forgives even though there is no repentance. This is false. Christ was not asking God to forgive them AT THAT MOMENT. Rather, He was stressing that they had not committed the unpardonable sin, when they killed Him. Surely they KNEW that they killed Christ. But they did not KNOW who Christ was. We need to note Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, explaining to them Christ’s identity. They did not willfully and maliciously kill Christ as the Son of God. When Peter explained to them what they had done, they “were cut to the heart” (v. 37). Peter told them that, UPON REPENTANCE AND BAPTISM, they would obtain forgiveness of their sins — not before then. He did not contradict Christ — they both agreed. Peter did not say, God has ALREADY forgiven you, since Christ had asked for your forgiveness. Rather, Peter understood what Christ had asked for. Christ, in essence, told the Father, “Don’t remember their sin forever. Once they come to repentance, forgive them.”
The same is true for Stephen’s prayer in Acts 7:60: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (NIV, RSV, REB, NAB, NJB). Moffat says, “Lord, let not this sin stand against them.” Stephen was saying, in essence, what Christ was saying, in effect: “Don’t treat this as the unpardonable sin, for which there is no forgiveness. Don’t let this sin stand against them forever. Once they come to repentance — a realization what they have done — forgive them.” Stephen and Christ did NOT ask God to forgive these people right there and then. Stephen had just told them, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (v. 51).
Stephen also told them, just as Peter had done, that they had become “the betrayers and murderers” of “the Just One” (v. 52). While Peter’s audience repented, Stephen’s audience did not. Rather, they added insult to injury by murdering Stephen. So, Stephen did not ask God to forgive them at that moment — people who were stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, always resisting the Holy Spirit. He asked God to forgive them, once they repented. Stephen did not contradict Peter either, who had required repentance BEFORE forgiveness.
In fact, we find numerous Scriptures where God has refused to grant forgiveness, as there was no repentance. Please note, too, that these examples include God’s dealing with Old Testament people to whom He had never offered the gift of the Holy Spirit. Compare Jeremiah 18:18-23; Joshua 24:19-20; Isaiah 2:9; Exodus 32:31-34.
On the other hand, we find that God forgives sin, once we repent (Psalm 32:5). When Solomon dedicated the temple, he asked God to forgive the people, when they would sin, REPENT, and ask God for forgiveness (1 Kings 8:33-40).
Notice God’s wish in Jeremiah 36:3, “It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the adversities which I purpose to bring upon them, THAT EVERYONE MAY TURN [i.e., repent] from his evil way, THAT I MAY FORGIVE their iniquity and their sin.” Again, no forgiveness without prior repentance. Notice also Daniel’s prayer, asking for forgiveness, following repentance, in Daniel 9:1-20.
God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, does not teach something different in New Testament times. In 1 John 1:9, we are promised forgiveness if we confess [or repent of] our sins. In Acts 26:18, forgiveness is predicated on turning from darkness to light. Compare, too, Peter’s admonition to Simon Magus, in Acts 8:22: “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.”
In conclusion, the Biblical teaching is very consistent and clear: God does not forgive us our sins, if we don’t repent of them.