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. Reblogged this on Talk Wisdom and commented:
    Relationships can be difficult and hard in this life. It takes work, but also a lot of love and forgiveness in order to get through disagreements, hurt feelings, and terrible things that can happen. No one has a perfect life, nor a perfect marriage.
    I wholeheartedly agree that repentance is required in order for genuine forgiveness to happen. Without these facts, then reconciliation would be hollow and even non-existent!
    God’s love for us was poured out through His Son Jesus at the Cross of Calvary. As believers in Him, we are instructed to love others, as He has loved us. The Bible doesn’t say to stop loving others when they make mistakes, especially when they are willing to ask for forgiveness and desire reconciliation with those that they have sinned against.
    Jesus told Peter that we are to forgive not only seven times, but “70 times seven” times! Was Jesus utilizing hyperbole in order to get the point across that repentance, as well as reconciliation are required.
    I read a devotional today that asks some pertinent questions.

    “Today, when you look at your life, and the lives of those closest to you, do you see fruit and abundance? Or do you see another picture? Are you like a dried-up branch, devoid of any good works that speak of a godly source? Do your relationships suffer because you are at the center, not Jesus?”

    The requirements of confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation are all needed to be forgiven for our sins and become right with God through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is this not the pattern that we should follow for the forgiveness of people in our lives during our journey in this world? If we don’t follow such a pattern, then how are we to bring others into God’s Kingdom?

    The devotional ends with:
    “Throughout the trials you face–whether big or small–cling to Jesus as the source and giver of life. May you remain in His love. And may His love fill you with abundance and cause you to bear fruit for His Kingdom.”


  2. I think you are using the term “radical feminism” incorrectly. Obviously you have a dislike of feminism…but radical feminism is the femi-nazi style feminism which ends up being like mysogyny in reverse. Normal garden-variety feminism ends up being stuff that most folks, I’m sure yourself included, would mostly agree with…for instance, that women in Saudi Arabia should be allowed to drive, that orthodox Jewish women should be taught to read (for hundreds of years they weren’t allowed) and that women should be paid the same amount for work that men in the same position would get.
    Whether you think the church is “inappropriately feminine” it seems a cheap shot to take aim at any sort of mushy grace doctrine that is out there and blame it on feminism. I, for one, am a pretty dedicated feminist, unapologetically – although definitely not a “radical feminist” and…I don’t believe Christians should forgive people who are unrepentant. Although I agree with you we should not be vengeful either.
    I often hear people criticize the church as being “too feminine” and often it is commands of Jesus to do stuff like “turn the other cheek” that get labeled as feminized (note, not feminist) ideas that men can’t endure in the church. This doesn’t make any sense to me and I don’t think any of that is true – Jesus certainly wasn’t feminized, but in His flesh he was something of a feminist (extending honor and position to women that were not normative in his day.) For Jesus’s stand for nonviolence to be construed as “feminine” just seems to be slanderous to me. I’m not saying that’s what you are doing precisely, either, but I’m just questioniing the overall critique that church is “feminine.”
    If anything, from a feminist perspective, the last place in society that embraces anything feminist or feminine is indeed the church. As a woman teacher, I’ve never once been invited to speak in front of a single American congregation — although I’ve done so abroad. Maybe I suck as a speaker. But you’ll note most speakers and teachers especially in evangelicalism are still male. To me the church is just a giant glass ceiling, if there is a feminist influence in church, maybe you can point me in that direction because the only females that seem to receive any equality with men in most churches I have ever been in, is occasionally the pastor’s wife who is assumed to be a leader in her own right just because she married a leader.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it seems these days that “feminism” is a loaded term. I usually just ask people what they mean by that. If they mean something like “radical feminism” or “I hate men”, yeah that’s an issue. If they mean what most people already agree with in the Western world, then there’s not much to debate. But, then why use the term “feminist”? I don’t have an easy answer to this, but I could see how someone in Saudi Arabia would call themselves a feminist.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Many Christian feminists do hold the idea that women are better than men. They are mild on other points but neither view is superior, masculine vs feminine. It depends on the situation at times.

    There is a teaching that almost forgives all wrongs by women and says men should just go along for the ride. I laugh when people say happy wife happy life, as of that is the way to live.

    My wife knows her natural will is to get her way and never have much input to her decisions. But she recognizes as a person I am wiser and far less impulsive, so if she asks my input before anything major she can save a lot of stress

    The wrong feminist view is any view thst says a woman has a if her view than a man, or that women are not to be challenged when they are in error.


  4. If you wonder for speaking in churches they have circles of speakers they chose from. It has a lot to do with they bring in the usual people and those they know or that have been recommended by others.
    Usually not much thought is put into the process, nor prayer. Will it be a person that brings a crowd, will they do it cheap, many different factors apply but not that often has their been any great depth of though to fill a speaking spot on most churches or events


  5. Timely post. My wife and I, along with some friends have had this discussion. In my own study, I came up with what you did, that forgiveness requires asking for it.
    The only verse I can come up with for the other stance is when Christ said on the cross ‘forgive them, for they know not what they do”. In which case I think that of the offender truly has no idea that they are sinning then forgiveness should be forthcoming.
    But we should tell them that they sinned. Falls under the rebuke part of the equation.
    Also, I think there are times that we can’t “hit someone when they are down”. Timing comes in to play. If someone sins against you, you don’t confront them on it when they are sick and suffering from a serious illness. But once they are on their feet again, it’s time for a talk…
    I haven’t listened to the debate, but plan to.
    Our pastor recently did a sermon on forgiveness. His sole focus was on forgiving without them asking, this based on the “forgive them for they know not what they do” passage.


  6. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to remain gullible for life. I don’t believe in harbouring resentment to others because it is detriment to myself and how I relate to others. But if people consistently prove themselves to be untrustworthy I wouldn’t enter into a relationship of trust with them. I will be friendly and loving to them but would I have them control business assets I couldn’t afford to lose no.


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