Debating forgiveness: must a person admit wrongdoing before being forgiven?

Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!
Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!

I’ve listened to this debate three times because I liked it so much. I even ordered Chris’ book for my best friend Dina. She has listened to the debate, and is currently split between the two debaters. I am in firm agreement with the pastor Chris, although Remy has some useful things to say that I agree with.

Here’s a link to the debate page on Moody Bible Institute’s “Up For Debate” program with Julie Roys.


Should Christians Forgive No Matter What?

Should Christians forgive someone even if he’s not sorry?  Or does true forgiveness require repentance and a desire to reconcile?  This Saturday, on Up For Debate, Julie Roys will explore this issue with Chris Brauns, a pastor who believes forgiveness requires repentance, and Remy Diederich who believes it does not.

Although I disagree with Remy, I only disagree with him about whether the guilty person must admit guilt and feel remorse and make restitution (depending on the severity of the offense). I agree with him on other things like no revenge, attitude of love, expressing willingness to forgive and be reconciled, etc. I also disagree with Remy on “forgiving God”, which I think is just crazy, because when God is engineering a person’s salvation, he never fails. I think that God is the Great General, and his strategies never fail to achieve the outcomes he desires (while still respecting free will). Whatever suffering or inadequacy or longing that you experience as a Christian is not some sort of mistake, horrible as it may be for you at the time. God is not your cosmic butler, although a lot of people these days seem to think that he is, and then they get disappointed.

Anyway, please listen to that debate and comment on it about who you think is right. I think my view (and Chris’ view) is in the minority in the church, because the church is so utterly dominated by feelings and radical feminism. I think my view (and Chris’ view) is the masculine view – the view that upholds moral standards, sets moral boundaries and defends the rightness of making moral judgments.

Below, I have pasted in some of my other thoughts on forgiveness from a previous post.

I think this is the key passage – Luke 17:3-4:

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

That’s Jesus speaking, there.

Also, I was having a debate with someone who disagrees with all this, and while debating with her, I thought of another example.

Luke 18:9-14:

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’

13 But the tax collector,standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’

14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

So again, no forgiveness without repentance.

Forgiveness is what happens when someone who is sinned against treats the sinner as if he had never sinned. It is not on the balance sheet. It is not brought to mind. It is not held against them in the future. The forgiver trusts the sinner again as if the previous sin had never happened.

In divine (vertical) forgiveness, there is no forgiveness without repentance. There are Bible verses above to show that.

My argument is twofold. First, there is a clear teaching of Jesus explaining the sequence of sin and forgiveness. Repentance precedes forgiveness, between humans (Luke 17:3). The verses cited by the forgive without repentance crowd don’t show the mechanics of how to forgive, they are making the point that if you want God to forgive you, you should forgive others. The parable in Luke 18:9-14 affirms this again – repentance always precedes forgiveness.

Second, we have an obligation to imitate God, and that means imitating the way he forgives those who sin against him. When I raise that with the unconditional forgiveness crowd, they want to insist that there is a difference, that the word “forgive” means different things. I’m not convinced.

Finally, I do think that forgiving someone is obligatory if they sincerely repent, and even if they screw up again and again. So long as the repentance is sincere, (like if there is restitution and a genuine effort to show an understanding how the sin affected the wronged party in writing), then forgiveness should be automatic. Depending on how bad the sin is, there maybe be more to do than just say “I’m sorry”. If the repentance is genuine, then I think the person who is sinned against must forgive, if they expect to be forgiven by God for the things they repent of.

Alan E. Kurschner adds one final point about the unconditional forgiveness view. He argues that there is serious textual doubt about the originality of Luke 23:34a, a text used by the pro-unconditional-forgiveness crowd. He has a journal article coming out on it, but a synopsis of his argument is here.

He also wrote this in a comment on this blog:

Second, on Matt 6:15, this is what I have to say. Notice the then-clause: “neither will your Father forgive your sins.” This would require universalism on the Father’s part according to the unconditional interpretation given the first half: “But if you do not forgive others their sins.” Since everyone has wronged the Father is the Father required to forgive everyone even if they are not seeking forgiveness?

So I think the case for the forgiveness being conditional on repentance is pretty strong, especially when serious harm has been caused.

8 thoughts on “Debating forgiveness: must a person admit wrongdoing before being forgiven?”

  1. I don’t see how, if there are examples of it in the scripture, it can be said otherwise. Of course, a lot of Christians don’t care to find out exactly what the bible says about a subject, and I was just ranting on my own blog about how many churches all “interpret” meanings differently, which leads to confusion between the churches and congregations understanding of verses, meaning no one is on the same page.

    Your argument makes sense, as there is scriptural evidence and example to back it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The hold up to forgiving only with repentance is that frequently you don’t get repentance/restitution (or true repentance – a sloppy, “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it). What then should we do?

    Should we live, holding onto that anger/hatred? I don’t think that is either Christian or healthy.

    Perhaps giving the whole matter to God and saying, “Lord – this is Yours, I will not pursue revenge or justice” isn’t quite forgiveness, but how do we live out “love your neighbor” without doing so?

    I know people who have been sinned against GROSSLY who have given forgiveness without receiving anything like repentance or restitution. I tend to think they’re living out Jesus’ example, and Stephen’s.

    I like the idea of forgiveness with repentance/restitution very much – but I fear that I like it in my flesh – not in the Spirit.


    1. Well the concern in Christianity is to do the right thing according to the rules, not based on feelings. Although the blind forgiveness side makes much of feelings, the issue is a moral one. Forgiveness is a transaction, not an emotion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well the concern in Christianitybis to do the right thing according to the rules, not based on feelings.

        Explain please, because, as I have been ranting on about for the past few days, I see very few Christians interested in doing things “by rules” and nearly everything is based on “feeling”. As a Christian I am getting frustrated that any mention of rule or traditional understanding is met by the majority of churches with the utmost disgust, leading to widespread misunderstanding and misinformation. It’s not got me running from my faith, but rather reasserting to myself that “how it was understood when it was written is how I will understand it now, sans creative interpretation”.


  3. Regarding this:

    “Forgiveness is what happens when someone who is sinned against treats the sinner as if he had never sinned. It is not on the balance sheet. It is not brought to mind. It is not held against them in the future. The forgiver trusts the sinner again as if the previous sin had never happened.”

    While I agree in theory, I do not find it practical to pretend the sinner didn’t commit the sin thereby setting one’s self up for more of the same. This is particularly true regarding those with a bad history, while one can take a chance with a “first offense”, as it were. I can posture myself as having forgotten after forgiving, but to truly forget can impact others as well as myself. Again, doesn’t seem practical. One can never be assured the repentance is real until some period of time has elapsed, and then still the risk remains.

    I would suggest nonetheless taking that posture, but remember to the extent that warning signs aren’t ignored.

    What say you?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t worry as much about the idea of forgiveness. When I was young God revealed to me the value on not being concerned about whether or not others like me. So I place little thought as to who likes or doesn’t like me and treat people roughly the same.

    But if people prove untrustworthy I don’t jump in and believe they are now a person of their word. So in a situation of forgiveness I give the issue of any pain I had up to God to help me deal with.

    But it will take time and I may always look at some with a bit of caution if they tend to be two faced


    1. I am often asked how it was that I was able to go through undergraduate and graduate school and never touched alcohol or women during college. The answer is what you said “When I was young God revealed to me the value on not being concerned about whether or not others like me.”

      1 Cor 4:1-5


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