Forgiveness Isn’t What You Think It Is

When someone hurts you, you’re supposed to forgive them. If you don’t the only person you’re hurting is yourself, right?
It’s a nice concept, I suppose. But it’s simply not biblical. Forgiveness has become a very fuzzy term. It’s now a general attitude of warmth and forgetfulness toward an offender, regardless of the offender’s feelings or actions toward us. However, in the Bible, forgiveness is not unconditional. 
Forgiveness is the action of absolving a person of blame, not a feeling of general goodwill towards that person. We are commanded to forgive as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32) (Matthew 6:12) (Colossians 3:13). We are to forgive in the same manner, in a similar way. When does God forgive us? When we confess our sins. Why then, would God hold us to a higher standard of forgiveness than He himself does? The answer is that he doesn’t. Forgiveness is not unconditional, even though love is.

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Speaking of brother in the neighbor sense, not as a brother in Christ) Luke 17:3-4

The verse above indicates that we rebuke a person who sins, not forgive them. If he repents, we are to forgive him. Forgiveness is transactional. It’s a covenant of sorts: an agreement between two people. The pattern of church discipline in Matthew 18 is similar. We are not to receive a believer who has sinned grievously back into fellowship until he has repented of his sin.

There is no example in the Bible where a sinner is clearly unrepentant and is forgiven anyway, where he is absolved of all the punishment of sin. Forgiveness is meaningless unless it has an effect, and its effect is the mutual reconciliation of two parties, which can only take place if both parties are willing. If I invite guests into my home, and they steal from me and don’t regret stealing from me, why would I invite them back into my home? My forgiveness means nothing to them, because they don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.

I think that we often confuse forgiveness with love. We are not commanded to forgive our enemies, but we are commanded to love everyone (Matthew 5:44). Forgiveness is a contract. Love, on the other hand, is not.

Thank God.

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