As many believing bloggers know, Tim Challies has an excellent site where he offers objective, biblically informed reviews of the latest in Christian literature.
The review of Unpacking Forgiveness especially got my attention because of this paragraph:
[The author] offers teaching on forgiveness that counters much of the mainstream of Evangelical thought. Nowhere is this shown more clearly than in his discussion about the conditional nature of forgiveness. Where we are accustomed to Christians “forgiving” any and everyone, perhaps standing outside the scene of a school shooting with signs saying, “We forgive you,” [the author] shows that this is not true forgiveness in a biblical sense. He distinguishes between a kind of therapeutic forgiveness that may make us feel better, and a genuine forgiveness that actually brings about reconciliation.
What piqued my interests is that, for a long time now, I have believed essentially the same thing about granting forgiveness. It is not to be offered free of charge or unconditionally. Instead, forgiveness costs the offender something. Scripture requires the offending party do something first before forgiveness is offered. After all, granting forgiveness without repentance does nothing for the offending party, but only helps me cope with the hurt of the offense. If forgiveness is granted to the offender, then isn’t forgiveness for the offender, as well as for me?
Practically every time I have shared my convictions on this, they are met with considerable resistance. Dissenting believers insist that we must grant forgiveness to others unconditionally. But must we?
John Stott writes:
“We are to rebuke a brother if he sins against us; we are to forgive him if he repents — and only if he repents. We must beware of cheapening forgiveness. . . . If a brother who has sinned against us refuses to repent, we should not forgive him. Does this startle you? It is what Jesus taught. . . . ‘Forgiveness’ includes restoration to fellowship. If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love but its shallowness.”
(Confess Your Sins: The Way of Reconciliation, p. 35)
Consider the following texts that speak of some kind of condition that must be fulfilled before forgiveness is granted:
If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.
For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
What do you think? Have I been misguided all these years for believing that repentance is a necessary condition for granting forgiveness to those who sin against me? Should I forgive those who sin against me but continue in their unrepentant state, even if they do not ask for forgiveness? How exactly can an unrepentant offender be reconciled? We’re told to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32), but exactly what are the conditions, if any, from which God forgave me?
Before you answer, however, read Justin Taylor’s post Governor Ryan, the Willis Family, and the Pursuit of Biblical Forgiveness for a real-life example of what I’m addressing here.
[Caveat: I have not yet read Unpacking Forgiveness but plan to do so…someday.]