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 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.

Details:

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. You really can’t go wrong with going by what the Scriptures say in context while also checking the original Greek or Hebrew text where needed.

    The biggest problem with the church today is the teaching of flat out false doctrines. They wrench versus out of context and make entire doctrines out of them and make up sins where the Bible does not. They won’t preach the full council.

    It’s become more about power, control and money with much of the church than about The Lord.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For whom is forgiving done, the sinner or the sinner? To forgive does not require repentance. One may quit carrying a grievance by forgiving the other party.

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  3. It’s not true repentance if the person keeps committing the same sin. Repentance isn’t just saying the words “sorry;” it’s turning from the sinful behavior in a way that is transparent and accountable.

    I think Christians must be clear about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation which absolutely requires true repentance.

    I view forgiveness as a supreme act of Grace from God that occurs even if the person doesn’t repent. Forgiveness is between us and God and actually has nothing to do with the other person but reconciliation sure does.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Two issues that are often forgotten.
    God only forgives us on our repentance, saying we must always forgive is adding to the bible.
    Secondly the whole O T sacrificial system teaches that there must be repentance before offering a sacrifice.

    The verses usually quite by the ‘ must forgive’ all in the light of the above show we must be willing to forgive.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting. The way I’ve looked at it in the recent past is to distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation. I think the forgiver can forgive without the perpetrator repenting. However they can’t be reconciled without repentance. Not saying that’s right. Just how I’ve looked at it.

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  6. I understand that God wants us to forgive those who do us wrong, but what if their actions were so grievous that maybe they shouldn’t be forgiven? An example would be child molestation/incest. How do you forgive someone for that? Is someone supposed to just forgive & forget? Do you let this person back into your life?

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