You teach that God does not forgive us our sins if we refuse to repent. Does this mean that God does not require us to forgive those that sin against us if they refuse to repent?


A careful review of the Scriptures reveals that God forgives us our sins, when we repent. In the same way, God requires of us to forgive a sinner his or her sins or trespasses AGAINST US, when he or she repents. Many times, however, we may not know whether or not a person has repented of his or her sins against us. The Bible instructs us as how to deal with such a situation:

We should always have a forgiving attitude and a willingness to immediately forgive upon repentance, as this can be the start of any reconciliation process. We must never develop and harbor grudges against another person (Leviticus 19:18). We must hate the sin, but we must never hate the sinner. If we begin to hate the sinner, and develop resentment against the sinner, then we may find ourselves in a position where we might not be able to forgive the sinner, when he or she does repent and/or when his or her repentance comes to our attention. Further, harboring grudges against someone is not spiritually or physically healthy for ourselves. It can deprive us of the inner peace and joy of God which we are supposed to have (compare John 14:27; 15:11; 16:24; Colossians 3:15). God is always willing and ready to forgive, and so must we. It has been correctly said that we must do everything we can to establish peace (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18; 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:11); and to help a person to repent, realizing at the same time that repentance is a gift from God (Romans 2:4). When we forgive, we must also forget, as God does (Jeremiah 31:34). Many may have a problem with eradicating from their memories the bad things, which somebody might have done to them. Without God’s help, it is clearly impossible to totally forget. However, with God’s help, all things are possible; and when we truly forgive someone his or her sins against us, we must make every effort to totally forget, and we must pray to God that He gives us that ability.

Some have felt that we must actually forgive a sinner his or her sins committed against us, even though he or she clearly and unambiguously REFUSES to repent. They have turned to a few Scriptures that may speak of forgiveness, without specifically mentioning repentance. To follow one of the most important principles of Bible study, we need to look at the clear and unambiguous Scriptures first, before addressing the more “difficult” ones. Further, we must take all the Scriptures together, understanding that they COMPLEMENT each other. For instance, when several Scriptures require repentance before forgiveness, and a few may not specifically mention repentance when addressing forgiveness, then it is incorrect to assume that there exists a duty to forgive sin, although the sinner clearly refuses to repent. Rather, by reading all the Scriptures, it is clear that there cannot be forgiveness without a willingness and a desire to repent of sin. We are not talking here about “offensive” or “rude” conduct that does not constitute sin – – we are addressing here a rebellious and proud refusal to repent of SIN.

God tells us that we must forgive others, AS God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).This is actually requiring of us to develop and have the same kind of mindset that God has. We are to become as God is — that is, perfect (Matthew 5:48; Genesis 17:1). For example, we are being told that we are to love one another AS Christ loved us (John 15:12) — and Christ loved us with the same love with which the Father loved Him (John 15:9). Actually, it is Christ’s love in us that enables us to love others in the same way (John 15:10). We are to develop and have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5) and God the Father. When Christ said that we have to love each other AS He loved us, this is to be understood quite literally, of course. Although God does not forgive a sinner without his repentance, He still loves him. In fact, we read that God loved the WORLD (when they were all unrepentant sinners) so much that He gave His only-begotten Son so that everyone who BELIEVES in Him (having come to repentance and having accepted the Sacrifice of Christ for payment of his or her sins) does not have to perish, but can have everlasting life (John 3:16). Although God does not forgive SIN without repentance, He still LOVES the sinner. God may “overlook” sinful conduct (not forgiving it), as we read in Acts 17:30, and so can we (compare Proverbs 19:11: “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, And his glory is to overlook a transgression.”)

We are to love the sinner — even our enemy. We must forgive others their sins against us, AS God has forgiven us our sins which are (ultimately) against Him — as He is the Lawgiver who tells us what sin is (James 4:12). We understand, that God does not forgive us if we are not willing to repent of our sins and show instead through our conduct that we want to continue sinning against God. John would not baptize people who had not shown in their lives “fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:7-9). Christ came to call sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13). He also said that we will perish, if we don’t repent (Luke 13:3, 5). He said that Nineveh was spared, because they repented (Matthew 12:41). Paul said that he might have to mourn for many “in the church” who did not repent of their sins (2 Corinthians 12:21). Of course, Christ’s message to the seven churches in the book of Revelation is filled with the admonition to repent, and He shows the consequences if they don’t. We know that those who refuse to repent and overcome their sins will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 21:7-8; compare, too, Jeremiah 18:23).

When Christ addressed our duty to forgive our fellow man, He included the concept of prior repentance. Luke 17:3-4 tells us: “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins AGAINST YOU, rebuke him; and IF HE REPENTS, forgive him. And if he sins AGAINST YOU seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, I REPENT, you shall forgive him.”

On the other hand, God is ALWAYS READY and WILLING to forgive (Psalm 86:5), and so must we. When someone sins against us, or we know that someone thinks that we have sinned against him or her, we are to talk to the person in an attempt to reconcile. We are NOT instructed in God’s Word that we must WAIT until the person, who has sinned against us, comes to us and asks us to forgive him or her. God gives us the freedom — and many times the responsibility and obligation — to go to our brother in an attempt to reconcile with our brother. We read in Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother HAS SOMETHING AGAINST YOU, leave your gift there before the altar, AND GO YOUR WAY. First be RECONCILED with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

IF our brother, who has sinned against us, is motivated by love and if he follows the lead of the Holy Spirit, he WILL respond to our attempt to reconcile with him. We read, in Matthew 18:15, that if he “hears” us, we have gained a brother. That is, he needs to hear – to repent of the sin that he committed against us. And if we find out that we have sinned against our brother, we need to confess and repent of that as well (compare James 5:16 and our Q&A on “Confession” in Update #92). But, if he REFUSES to hear us, then what? Are we commanded to forgive him, regardless? That’s not what Christ says. He tells us, “But if he will NOT hear you, take with you one or two more… and if he REFUSES to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:16-17).

In other words, let him be to you as an “unclean person,” disfellowshipped from the community of the body of Christ. Then what?

Upon his repentance, we are to “restore” such a person (Galatians 6:1). We might have to make a “distinction,” as to how to go about doing it (Jude 20-23). Upon repentance, Paul asked of the Corinthians to restore the sinning brother back into the fold (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). It has to include the concept of repentance, however, as otherwise there would be no point in disfellowshipping the person in the first place.

In Luke 15:11-32, we read the moving parable of the “lost son.” When the lost son returned to his father’s house, the father saw him coming (verse 20). He was WAITING for his return. He ran to him and kissed him tenderly (as the original has it), showing him that he was willing to take him back (same verse). The fact that he saw the son RETURNING was already sufficient for him to grant him forgiveness. He SAW that the son was showing fruits worthy of repentance – he was returning. This is of course a parable, showing that God the Father is WAITING for our repentance (compare 2 Peter 3:9), and that He is READY to forgive, when we repent and want His forgiveness. God can look at our hearts. The son had said, before he had ever reached the father, that he had sinned (Luke 15:18-19). And, when he reached his father, he said the same again (verse 21).

Having a forgiving attitude requires sometimes GIVING THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. Only God can look into the heart of a person (although God has given His ministers a certain degree of discernment to ascertain whether someone is repentant or not, compare John 20:22-23. In addition, Christ tells all of His disciples to carefully analyze the conduct of false ministers, compare Matthew 7:15-20). When a person seems to express or show repentance, that must be sufficient for us to willingly grant forgiveness. A person, who sins against us and comes to us seven times “in a day” and says, ” I’m sorry,” needs to be forgiven every time (compare Luke 17:4). Christ even said that we must forgive him “up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22), that is, there is no limit whatsoever. On the other hand, a person who continues in wrongdoing and who shows no sign of regret whatsoever, and does not ask for forgiveness, and proudly claims that he has nothing to repent of, does fall into a different category.

However, if in doubt, we are to show mercy. We might have a hard time believing that a person who asks us seven times within a day to forgive him has truly repented. Still, Christ said, if he comes to you seven times within a day and says, “I repent,” you must forgive him (Luke 17:3-4).

Also, we sometimes may not know whether a person has repented, if he or she lives far away from us. We are admonished to be tender hearted (Ephesians 4:32) and merciful (Luke 6:36). If a person initiates contact with us, even if it is by sending a card, or calling on the phone, or if he or she responds to us, when we try to initiate contact, we should act mercifully and compassionately, with the goal of restoring the relationship. We need to always give the benefit of the doubt! After all, if we are unwilling to forgive others their trespasses, God will not forgive us our trespasses either (Matthew 6:14-15). The father of the “lost son” was willing to give his son the benefit of the doubt – he saw him coming back, and while still afar off, he ran to him. As we read in Leviticus 19:18, we are not to hold grudges or anger against a person, and we are not to refuse to communicate with him or her, because we don’t know yet FOR SURE whether the person has repented. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:5: “Don’t be too severe.” After the punishment had been inflicted (compare verse 6), he admonished the brethren: “… you ought rather to forgive and comfort him” (verse 7).

We need to become perfect, as God in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Even though God does not forgive “the bad” without their repentance, He still “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). If we have that same kind of a godly attitude, we will be “sons of our Father in heaven” (same verse), striving towards perfection (verse 48). That is why we are to love our enemies, and to do good to those who hurt and hate us (verse 44). We are to pray to God FOR them (same verse) — so that God would perhaps grant them repentance and a change of heart (compare 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Acts 8:20-24).

A “character description” of the converted Christian can be found in Colossians 3:12-15. It discusses forgiveness in the context of a much bigger picture: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even AS Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love [which covers all sins, compare Proverbs 10:12], which is the bond of perfection. And let the PEACE OF GOD rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

©2024 Church of the Eternal God