What a wonderful word! Yet, what does it mean? How do you grant forgiveness; and, for what?

As much as Christians talk about forgiveness, you’d think they could tell you all about it. Yet, there is hardly one in a thousand who can give sound, Biblical answers to the questions above.

Forgiveness of others is to be modeled on one’s own forgiveness by Christ: “… forgiving one another just as God, in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

Forgiveness must be extended to all who say they repent—even if the offense has been repeated (Cf. Luke 17:3). But it is only to be granted to those who confess wrong doing, claim to be repentant, and ask forgiveness (Prov. 28:13). In Mk. 11:25, Jesus tells you to forgive those who wronged you when you pray, thereby avoiding bitterness and resentment (Eph. 4:32). But, that is different from granting the wrongdoer forgiveness. You do that only when he repents. Forgiveness of others must reflect god’s forgiveness; He forgave you when you repented.

Some unthinking Christians advise forgiving another whether or not he confesses sin. But they misunderstood forgiveness. They urge this to benefit the one who forgives. Yet, it was for your benefit that God forgave you. Their self-centered concept of forgiveness is unbiblical. God did not forgive you until you repented, admitted you were a sinner, and believed. Indeed, even now, when God dispenses parental forgiveness, He says, “…if you don’t forgive men, then your Father won’t forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:15).

Some think when Christ prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them,” He forgave apart from repentance. But Jesus granted no one forgiveness by those words. He was asking God to forgive. Did God answer? Yes. On the day of Pentecost, thousands of those same people were converted, and their sins were forgiven. But, that did not happen apart from the means. Peter called on them to repent and believe in order to receive forgiveness (Cf. Acts 2:38).

Because in forgiving one promises not to bring up the offender’s sin, to him, to others, or to himself, it is not right to forgive before repentance. Jesus requires you to confront an offender (Matt. 18:15ff) in order to bring about reconciliation. If he refuses to listen to you, instead of forgiving him, you must tell one or two others. If he won’t hear them, then you must tell the church. Indeed, apart from repentance, the matter, must be brought up to an increasingly larger number of persons. Why? Through their aid to win the offender. In love, true forgiveness seeks not to relieve the forgiver, but to deliver the offender from his burden of guilt. Out of concern for the other person, the offended party pursues the offender until the matter is settled before God and men. Any bitterness on his part, Jesus said, must be dealt with in prayer. Because forgiveness is a promise not to refer negatively to the offender’s sin any more, it would be utterly inconsistent to forgive an unrepentant person before Church discipline has been successfully used.

People who try to be kinder than God, end up becoming cruel to others. The kind thing is not to focus on relief for one’s self, by forgiving others whether they repent or not, but by every Biblical means to win offenders. It may seem unkind to bring matters up again and again when an offender refuses to be reconciled, but you must do so, not to irritate, but to help relieve him of the burden of his sin. To ignore him and focus on one’s self, saying, “feel better since I forgave Bob, even though he didn’t seek forgiveness,” is the epitome of the modern, self-centered psychological heresy.

Seeking forgiveness is not apologizing. There is nothing in the Bible about apologizing—the World’s substitute for forgiveness that doesn’t get the job done. You apologize, and say “I’m Sorry,” but have not admitted your sin. The offended party feels awkward, not knowing how to respond. You are still holding the ball. You asked him to do nothing. But, confess your sin to him saying, “I have asked God to forgive me, and now I’m asking you,” and you pass the ball to the other person. You ask him to bury the matter for good. Jesus commands him to say “yes,” thereby making the promise that God does: “Your sins and you iniquities will I remember against you no more.” That brings the matter to a conclusion. Apologizing does not.

Is there someone to whom you should go ask forgiveness? Has someone sought it from you to whom you said “Once, yes; twice, maybe; three times, no!”? Perhaps there is someone whom you have never confronted about a matter that has brought about an unreconciled condition between you. Are any of these problems outstanding? Then you have business to attend to. Why not settle the matter today?

You don’t have to feel like it to forgive. Forgiveness is a promise that you can make and keep, whether you feel like it or not. And, it is easier to forgive another—even when he sins against you seven times a day—when you remember Christ’s great sacrifice for you sins by which He forgave you. And, then too, remember how many times a day He forgives you ever since you have become a believer. One other fact may help. If you have truly forgiven, it isn’t the fifth, or the third; it’s not even the second time. If you have truly buried the matter, truly forgiven—it’s always the first.

Father, Forgive Them

The words following are almost always misunderstood.

Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23: 34, CSB).

What do they call to mind for you?

That Jesus was kind and forgave those who were crucifying Him. And, therefore, forgiveness is not conditioned upon repentance or faith—He offered it unconditionally!

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! In those words, Jesus was forgiving no one.


Really! Read again, more carefully. To whom was He speaking?

Uh . . . to God, I guess.

Right, He was not granting forgiveness to those who were putting Him to death. He wasn’t even speaking to them.

Note, also, that His words were a prayer. Do you think it was answered?

Don’t know—it doesn’t say.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to these same people as well as others. Five thousand Jews believed and were saved. That’s how the prayer was answered. Not apart from a condition—namely repentance and faith in Christ’s death for their sins.


Do you see? No one is forgiven unconditionally by God. The condition is always faith as the means of receiving it.

Forgiven, and then Counsel Others

David was forgiven! He rejoices over the Lord’s goodness for that forgiveness in Psalm 32.  But he doesn’t stop with celebrating God’s mercy. He also considers it an obligation to urge others to seek forgiveness for their sin.  Indeed, he seems to be obligated to help. So he counsels them:

I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with my eye on you I will give counsel.   Psalm 32:8.

But what is that counsel? We can read it in the next verse:

Do not be like the horse or mule . . . that must be controlled with bit and bridle (v.9).

Why mention that?

He says that these are needed to bring the animal to you. In other words, when one won’t come on his own to seek God’s forgiveness, he must be dragged along. And David is willing to do it!

He wants his reader to deal with their sin differently than he did. He counsels him to be willing to come readily to God and seek forgiveness.  David had to be stunned into submission to God by Nathan’s story. He wanted, therefore, to warn others that they need not go through the agony he had experienced when, mulishly, he wouldn’t come to God seeking forgiveness (see v. 4).

So, too, why not urge your counselees—forgiven of sin—to willingly counsel others as he did?


Forgiveness After Forgiveness?

The Lord’s Prayer is confusing. I have understood that once forgiven by Christ, you don’t need to be forgiven again. But in that prayer, we are to pray for forgiveness of our trespasses. And in the footnote to it, we are told that if we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven. How come?

That the prayer is for believers—once-for-all-forgiven people—is clear: they are to pray to God their Father. They are His children.

What’s with this asking for forgiveness, then?

There are two kinds of forgiveness:

  1. Judicial forgiveness:

When you trust Christ as Savior, you are eternally forgiven—a forgiveness that needs no repetition or addition.

  1. Parental forgiveness:

Once in the family, God never kicks you out. But, when you do wrong, the Father (note the recurrence of this word in the passage) expects you to ask for forgiveness, and as Father He gives it. The footnote is like a child asking for the family car keys and the Father saying, “You’ll get them when you ask you brother for forgiveness for the wrong you did to him. That’s fatherly (parental) forgiveness.

Does this help?

Yep. Thanks.

Confused About Forgiveness?

Several days ago we published an article by Dr. Adams on the subject of Forgiveness. It is the rare counseling situation, involving two people, where the subject of forgiveness does not arise early in the process. That blog is a brief summary of the information found in Jay’s book From Forgiven to Forgiving. When I was a pastor I had that article printed up as a tri-fold brochure and used it as a homework handout to counselees after I had taught them about forgiveness during the counseling session. You may copy the article and do the same if you reference Jay and the Institute as your source.

The main thesis of both the book and Jay’s blog is that believers are to forgive in the same way God forgave us in Christ (Ephesians 4:32). Nouthetic counselors understand this and are clear about some implications:

  1. Forgiveness is a promise that the issue is settled and will not be brought up against the other person again. It is sin to raise the issue again after granting forgiveness.
  2. While we desire to forgive (thus guarding against bitterness) forgiveness is granted only upon confession and repentance.
  3. Nouthetic counselors are not Universalists. God forgives only those who repent.
  4. Church discipline would not be possible if we have forgiven someone who has not repented.

While Nouthetic counselors are clear about these things it seems the broader “Biblical” counseling world is not. Recently the Biblical Counseling Coalition published a blog, which they later promoted in their monthly newsletter, that began with this:

Human forgiveness does not depend on the attitudes or actions of the offender. When in conflict, an offended person can (and must) forgive the offender, even if the offender fails to repent or confess their sins.

When the author received push-back from an interlocutor she rightly pointed out that “biblical writers are confused on the topic of forgiveness in part because of a lack of clarity about how God forgives.” Then, as though to further contribute to the confusion, she points her readers to a book by John MacArthur, an article in the aggressively integrationist Journal of Psychology and Christianity, and “anything Don Carson has written about forgiveness.”

Nouthetic counselors do not share the author’s confusion on the subject of forgiveness. Jesus clearly taught His disciples to forgive someone “if he repents” (Luke 17:3).  We are not sure why an author would write a blog dealing with an issue about which she is confused, but we are disappointed that the Biblical Counseling Coalition would contribute to the confusion by publishing and promoting it.

When You Were Wrong

So often, people respond to others in ways that they wish they hadn’t. What should you do about it when you are the guilty party? Confess that you were wrong, and seek forgiveness. You should work toward reconciliation. See Matthew 5:23.

But what if the person is not around, you never will see him again, is dead?

Sin is fundamentally against God—even when it is also against another person. So you can talk to Him about it the matter, seek His forgiveness, and ask for help in being different in the future.

He knows where the person is and can settle matters in the other person’s heart in His way, even if you are not present. If he is dead, God has already brought His settlement to the issue.

The key thing is to be sure you have done all you can to contact the person you sinned against; then, if your search is unsuccessful, ask God to deal with the matter as He sees fit.

Is there someone from whom you should ask forgiveness today? Don’t put it off; settle matters right now!

How Far Is It?

When people quarrel it’s not pleasant for anyone. Tempers flare; things are said that are later regretted.

What to do about it?

One thing for sure—Christians ought to be able to seek and receive forgiveness. Forgiveness puts the matter behind all parties concerned. When God forgave you, He says that He put your sins away for good—removed them as far as the East is from the West. You know how far that is?


Well, start going East (or West, for that matter) and how far will you go around this globe before you reach West (or East, as the case may be)?

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