Forgiveness and Repentance

by Matthew Raley I got a question over Twitter following my recent post on forgiveness. How do you forgive someone who won't acknowledge doing wrong, or who never repents?

Three issues here.

1. We have a duty to forgive even those who will not acknowledge doing wrong. Jesus forgave those who crucified him while they were in the act of doing so (Luke 23.34). His death for sinners occurred when we were ungodly, not in response to our repentance (Romans 5.6-11). Jesus commands us to forgive as we have been forgiven (Matthew 6.14-15), extending the same release to others that we've gained ourselves.

2. Forgiveness is not a free pass for a sin without payment. Remember the transaction of release: upon payment, the debt no longer adheres to the debtor. The Scriptures tell us to release people from their sins on the strongest possible basis, Christ's payment for sin. Because of his death on the cross, Jesus Christ is now the judge (John 5.22-29).

So when I forgive someone who has wronged me, I am saying that Christ bought me out of my debts. Therefore I have no right to hold debts over another person (Matthew 18.23-35).

In this sense, my release of someone who has wronged me is a change of custody. "Whatever claim I have against this person I surrender to Christ. He is judge; I am not. He may do as He will."

3. Forgiveness is different from trust. Jesus forgives Peter for his betrayals, along with the other disciples (John 20.19-23). But he still goes through a process with Peter to reestablish the relationship (John 21.1-19).

There are times when we are called to forgive without the possibility of restoration. Those who will not turn from the sins that have harmed us may never be restored to the relationships we once had. In particular, this is true of those who have died without acknowledging their wrongs. In such cases, the matter is a transaction between my soul and Christ. "Lord, it is your right to deal with this person. For my part, I renounce whatever rights I may have because of your mercy to me."