Facets of Forgiveness

Recently I’ve been thinking about forgiveness, which is a teaching that I believe is often misunderstood these days. Let’s explore this critical act by beginning with a look at some barriers to forgiveness.

It is absolutely imperative to understand and believe that God never promises to forgive all sins or all sinners. If God forgave all sin, then there would be no need for Hell or The Lake of Fire because all souls would be forgiven and would go to be with God! Passages in both the Old and New Testaments make it clear that there is sin which God will not forgive. One example is after the golden calf incident, where we see The Lord describing His own character to Moses. Here God says

The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.
— Exodus 34:6b-7

So, as we know, God mercifully removes sins and trespasses. But, additionally we see that He does not consider those who commit iniquity to be innocent. I believe it’s clear He is specifically speaking of those who remain in sin. Rather than forgiving their sins, He numbers, or keeps records of their guilt. God does not save these sinners from condemnation, rather they are declared to be guilty. Also, note that in this Exodus passage The Lord mentions punishing sinful fathers and sons. This Truth fits with 1 John 3:1-12 which is clear that the children of God abstain from sin, while the Devil’s sons remain unforgiven and in their sins. Continuing this line of thought, in the New Testament, we see that Jesus Himself testifies not every sin will be forgiven. Jesus says 

I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
— Matthew 12:31-32

So additionally we see that blasphemy of The Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. It’s critical that we understand God never promises to forgive all sins!

Jesus speaks of a second barrier to forgiveness in Matthew 18:15-20. Here Jesus describes a sinner who has sinned against a Christian brother. The offended one desires to restore the relationship through forgiveness, but even though the righteous one approaches the transgressor multiple time and even takes with him eyewitnesses of the sin, the one who sinned is not interested in forgiveness. In this case the sin cannot be forgiven because the sinner refuses to admit he has even sinned! His actions say “How can you forgive me?! You cannot forgive me because I haven’t even sinned against you!” Jesus says the conclusion of this process is to treat this unrepentant brother as a pagan heathen — as if he were not even saved! In the following verses Jesus says that the church’s work even binds this status in heaven, which calls into question whether the sinning brother’s heavenly forgiveness is also in jeopardy! This whole sequence brings to mind the following words of John

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
— 1 John 1:8-10

The conditional aspect of John’s words cannot be ignored, especially the “if we confess” then ‘He forgives and cleanses.’ Just as God forgives after genuine confession is made, do we not forgive after the one who has sinned against us acknowledges and confesses their sin as they seek forgiveness? In the situation that Jesus describes in Matthew 18, there cannot be forgiveness because the sinner never admits he is guilty.

Perhaps I should have stated it before, but this is as good of a time as any to define and understand what forgiveness is. When one is violated or sinned against, a penalty is now owed by the offender. Forgiveness releases the offender from their penalty. In a way forgiveness is about restoring a sense of equality in that the offender no longer owes something to the one who has been offended. Here in the Midwest we say “You owe him an apology” — forgiveness is similar to this saying, but it is more appropriate to say “You sinned against him. Now you are bound to confess your sin and seek his forgiveness.” Consider that the purpose of forgiveness is to repair and restore the relationship, or in certain cases forgiveness may begin a new relationship!

This post isn’t a comprehensive look at forgiveness, but the point I hope you take away from this is that God does not forgive: 1. Those who do not admit they’ve done wrong  2. Those who do not want to reconcile with Him or  3. Those who explicitly reject a relationship with Him. 

If God does not forgive these types of sinners, then why would He expect His children to forgive those who are unrepentant and incorrigible?

Even though you cannot forgive those who don’t want to be forgiven, you can still desire to reconcile with them. As He was on the cross, Christ desired forgiveness even while most of those gathered around continued to ridicule, mock and reject Him and His gifts (see Luke 23:33-37).

Just as it takes two to tango (or tangle) it takes two willing parties for genuine forgiveness and reconciliation to occur.


Additional Scriptures: Luke 17:3-4, John 20:21-23, Romans 10:6-13, Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:21-35, Luke 6:36-37, Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:13-14.