Must or Can We Forgive If the Offender Refuses to Repent? – Dub McClish

Dub McClish

God’s example of forgiveness answers, “No.” God’s Word constantly urges men in both the Old and the New Testaments to repent so that they may be forgiven. God sent His prophets to Israel and Judah generation after generation and the theme of them all was repentance. When they steadfastly refused and mistreated God’s prophets, He finally brought destruction upon both of those nations of His people. I am not aware of a single case in all of the Bible where God ever promised or extended forgiveness apart from repentance (which in its fullness includes recognition and confession of the sin, regretting the sin, doing all one can to correct the wrong done, and ceasing the practice of it). Men have always had only two alternatives: Repent or perish (Luke 13:3)! (This is not to imply that repentance is the only condition of forgiveness sin every circumstance, but it is simply to illustrate that at the very least repentance has always been required by). God does not forgive unconditionally, as we have already emphasized, and forgiveness has always required man’s repentance. Paul told the Athenians, “He [God] commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent” (Acts 17:30).

The teaching of our Lord also answers, “No.” Jesus said, “If thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Twice in this passage Jesus emphasizes our duty to forgive offenders, but also, twice He emphasizes that our forgiveness is dependent upon the repentance of the offender.

There are those who have suggested that Christ implied God bestowed forgiveness upon His impenitent crucifiers when He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:84). However, this could not be so for at least three reasons. (1) It places Christ in the position of asking His Father to contradict His immutable will which requires repentance of the sinner. (2) It places Christ in the position of contradicting Himself (Luke 13:3; 17:3-4). (3) It makes the apostles’ words on Pentecost to the crucifiers of Christ superfluous at best and ridiculous at worst. Clearly, the apostles were addressing those responsible for the Lord’s crucifixion (Acts 2:22-23). They were told by the twelve, “Repent ye, and be immersed every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:38). If God instantaneously granted the Lord’s prayer on the cross for the forgiveness of these people short of repentance, then they did not need to repent because they had already received the remission of sins some fifty days before! The fact that they were told to repent and be baptized in order to receive forgiveness on Pentecost is positive proof that they were not immediately forgiven when Jesus prayed for their forgiveness. What we are to understand from Jesus’ prayer on the cross, therefore, is that His crucifiers would be granted the opportunity to repent so that they could be forgiven, which in exactly what Pentecost provided. We are to understand the dying prayer of Stephen in the same way (Acts 7:60). At least one among those who encouraged his death (Saul of Tarsus) would subsequently hear and obey the gospel and have his sins washed away in the blood of Christ (Acts 22:16).

It is manifestly impossible for God to forgive those who sin against Him before they repent. Surely, none would argue that mere men must do that which God cannot do!

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Author: Editor

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