Forgiveness – is it unconditional or conditional?

A couple of days ago, I pitched this question to folks on Twitter and Facebook.  The disagreements on the issue of forgiveness is not one that is divided between conservatives and liberals but between conservatives and conservatives.  Since forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian faith and that we are to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ (Eph. 4:32), then it is important that understand why and how we should forgive one another.

The Issues

The fundamental issue is whether forgiveness is unconditional (not dependent upon the repentance of the offender) or conditional (granted only when the offender has repented and asked for it).  Both camps would argue that repentance is necessary for reconciliation between the offender and offended parties, but those in the unconditional camp would argue that repentance is not required for forgiveness.  In order, then, it would look something like this:

Sin/Offense –> Forgiveness –>Repentance –> Reconciliation (Unconditional)
Sin/Offense –> Repentance –> Forgiveness –> Reconciliation (Conditional)

As you can see, the key issue is the role that repentance plays in differentiating granting forgiveness and actual reconciliation between two people. Let me attempt to provide the case for each position, as best I can understand them.

The Case for Unconditional Forgiveness

Unconditional forgiveness argues that forgiveness should not be contingent upon the obedience of another person (i.e., their repentance).  If Christ commands us to forgive, is it a tenable practice then to make our ability to follow through on that command based on the follow through of someone else’s repentance?  The clearest text which speaks to this is Mark 11:25 which says

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

It appears that there are no conditions placed on this command to forgive; on the contrary, it is “anything” against “anyone.”  The concluding words of Jesus are reflected also after the Lord’s Prayer when Jesus said:

“ . . . but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15).

Clearly, there is a direct correlation to forgiving others and the Father’s forgiveness.  The condition (if) relates to the follower of Christ, and the (then) consequence relates to God.

Perhaps the strongest case for unconditional forgiveness is Jesus on the cross when he cried, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Jesus is praying for the forgiveness of His offenders and executors.  What His prayer effectual and unconditional?  Jesus’ forgiving of these people does not have to be salvific in nature, leading to reconciliation with God.  Therefore, could it not mean that Jesus is forgiving them of the immediate, specific actions they partook in putting Him on the cross?  If so, then could that granting of forgiveness be an example of unconditional forgiveness from man-to-man perspective?

The Case for Conditional Forgiveness

Conditional forgiveness argues that granting forgiveness must be conditional upon repentance because this is the way God forgives us in Christ.  Not everyone is forgiven of their sin and therefore reconciled with God (i.e., universalism); only those who repent and believe in Jesus are forgiven of their sin.  If we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13), then our forgiveness on a horizontal level must mirror God’s forgiveness on a vertical level.

The key text in the Gospels used for conditional forgiveness is Luke 17:3-4 which says:

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Here we see the preceding act of repentance leading to the call of forgiveness.  Similarly, 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This confession is to say the same thing about your sin as God does, which is an expression of repentance.

Conditional forgiveness argues three other aspects, namely: 1. Christians should always love their enemies and have a gracious disposition, offering forgiveness to the offender (but granting only when he or she repents); 2. Forgiveness is always connected to reconciliation; and 3. While forgiveness is granted to the repentant, a sense of God’s justice and righteousness must factor into the equation where vengeance and judgment is left to God for the unrepentant.

Analysis

While I lean strongly in the conditional forgiveness camp, I still am unsatisfied with the how the texts for unconditional forgiveness are answered.  Furthermore, the one text used for conditional forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4) speaks directly to those who repent but says nothing about those who do not repent.  In other words, it is hard to make a case for a position based on what the text does not say(!).  Regarding reconciliation always being connected to forgiveness, how is that case made for Mark 11:25 and Matt. 6:15?  It seems that an unwillingness to grant unconditional forgiveness perpetuates disobedience upon the former verse and prohibits our heavenly Father’s grant forgiveness to us.  Am I missing it here?

A leading question for advocates of the unconditional forgiveness has been, “What’s the difference between offering forgiveness and granting forgiveness?”  I think this is a valid question.  The Greek word most often used for forgiveness is aphiemi which means “to let go, to send away, to release” and is often symbolized in the canceling of debts.  What every Christian should do when they are offended is to let go of their sense of getting back, of a vindictive spirit, or taking vengeance upon the one who has offended them.  We are also to send away any spirit of bitterness, wrath, or unforgiveness as well.  While we are to release ourselves from taking the matter into our own hands, this does not necessarily mean that we should release the offender from the offense when there is no repentance.  One can genuinely offer forgiveness out of a gracious disposition of seeking the welfare of the offender through repentance while releasing them (granting forgiveness) until they have asked for it and expressed repentance.

I am far from figuring this one out (as you can see), and I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.  I am inclined toward the conditional forgiveness because of the call to “gospel” one another and encourage repentance and faith from humble hearts seeking to honor God.  Forgiving others as God has forgiven us is a sacrificial love offended party to absorb the payment for the offender and expressing genuine concern for their eternal welfare with an understanding of forgiveness that takes into account the justice and righteousness of God.  To the unbelieving offender, I want to pursue them, taking the initiative as the offended party to demonstrate the love of Christ by calling them to Christ, explaining how the wrath of God’s judgment against sinners who repent and believe is absorbed in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  As one who has been a great offender of God by deeds springing from a wicked heart, I feel that the canceling of my 10,000 talents has given me the inspiration for a lifetime to take those who owe me 100 denarii to find their greater debts canceled in the blood-stained cross of Calvary.

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33 Comments on “Forgiveness – is it unconditional or conditional?”


  1. Great stuff Timmy. This is a really good explanation of the issue. One scripture that sticks in my head is Romans 2:4: it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. This is probably true of human to human relationships as well.

    I think the verses that seem to suggest unconditional repentance are meant to foster a spirit of forgiveness inwardly so that we hold out the offer of forgiveness. At that point we may see repentance, and forgiveness come to completion. It is almost as if the Spirit is working through us to offer the kindness of God to an individual. One of the Spirit’s works is to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, and he uses means to do that: us. If we are to be spirit filled, we must look at the way God hold out forgiveness and do the same while not pretending that forgiveness has been brought to completion in restoration if that hasn’t really happened.

    Thanks for this post.


    • Shayne,

      Regarding Romans 2:4, I think that is the argument for those in the unconditional forgiveness camp. In other words, the unconditional forgiveness granted provides the opportunity to explain why they are able to do so (because God has forgiven them).


      • I would say I am to offer forgiveness, thus showing God’s kindness. But I wouldn’t consider the forgiveness fully completed until I saw repentance. I would continue to offer forgiveness like Christ, but not forgive those who do not repent, also like Christ.


  2. In the passage from Luke, the fellow who sins seven times and “repents” each time is faking. Repent means turning from your sin, not repeating it. It must be really frustrating to forgive an insincere person for the same thing over and over.

    I think this passage speaks to unconditional forgiveness. Even though the person is obviously insincere and taking advantage of your pious nature, forgive him. Forgiveness is for you, not him. You cannot have a heart for God while you harbor bitterness, anger, or resentment toward you brother.

  3. Chris Brauns Says:

    Great thoughts Timmie. You know this is a subject to which I have devoted some thought.

    I think one of the first things we need to sort through is, “What is forgiveness essentially?” Is it what happens in a relationship? Or, is it fundamentally a feeling? Of course, everyone agrees that both feelings and relationships are involved.

    Biblically, forgiveness is about what happens in a relationship. To adapt Boston, biblical forgiveness is more than a feeling. When God forgives, God does not do so for his own benefit, or because he doesn’t want to be bitter, but rather such that the relationship is restored.

    Most advocates of unconditional forgiveness build their case on the idea that we shouldn’t be bitter or vindictive. Forgiveness is seen as a feeling that is the opposite of being bitter. Of course, they correct that we shouldn’t take revenge or be bitter. But, we can offer forgiveness, or have an attitude of forgiveness without the second stage of forgiveness taking place.

    It is interesting how the idea of unconditional-interpersonal forgiveness is inevitably read back into soteriology. Hence, Rob Bell contends that hell is full of forgiven people. I think he means that God offered salvation to all and they declined. But, to say that we can be forgiven by God and still go to hell, eviscerates biblical forgiveness of its meaning.

    Here are a couple of links some may have not seen:

    http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2008/02/18/others-on-conditional-forgiveness/

    And,

    http://www.reformation21.org/articles/unpacking-forgiveness.php


    • Chris,

      Sorry for the late reply. First of all, I forgive you for misspelling my name. 🙂

      But seriously, I have read your book and read your explanation of Jesus’ forgiveness on the cross, could you briefly give me more exegetical support for the conditional forgiveness position? And how do you answer the questions regarding Mark 11:25 and Matthew 6:15? While Luke 17:3-4 says that we must forgive those who repent, but what do you say to those who argue that such a text is not an argument *against* unconditional forgiveness because it does not positively speak against forgiving the unrepentant.

      It seems to me that the biggest argument for conditional forgiveness is the logic of the gospel, in that repentance is necessary for forgiveness to be granted. I am in agreement on this, but I still am uncomfortable or unsatisfied with the explanations of the texts in favor of unconditional forgiveness at this point.

      Regarding the definition of forgiveness, reading (or listening to) the unconditional forgiveness leads me to believe that they do not believe forgiveness is just a feeling. In fact, your labeling of the contra position as therapeutic some take as a labeling power play. I know you quote/reference Sande in your book, but it is interesting that even he argues that in most cases, repentance is not necessary (if the issue is not major).

      One more question I have for you is what specifically is the difference between having a disposition of granting forgiveness than actually granting forgiveness. Can you explain the difference in substantial terms?

      Thanks Chris! I benefited greatly from you book, and I look forward to learning more on this topic from you.

      • Chris Brauns Says:

        I am pressed for time, so I’ll have to be brief and, perhaps, scattered.

        Like Sande, in my book I also make the point that many matters should just be dropped. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience, it is to his glory to overlook an offense (Prov 19:11).” Our churches so need to live out this verse. As you know, in my book, I outline.

        Indeed, most matters should be dropped. As David Reimer has pointed out, incidents of interpersonal conflict that are covered in the O.T. dealt with matters of life and death.

        You may be right that my labeling of unconditional forgiveness as therapeutic is a bit of a power play – – At the very least, I am building my case with the label. It is probably using too broad of a brush because not everyone who advances unconditional forgiveness does so in the same way.

        Still, there is so much misunderstanding here, and a failure to consider how justice is involved. This is so unfortunate where major offenses are concerned.
        And, ultimately, it plays to the weakness of our automatic Gospel culture.

        As I have elsewhere argued, I think therapeutic forgiveness (not saying all unconditional advocates fall in this camp) packs unforgiveness, by failing to truly rest in the justice of God.

        Briefly, I think the difference between an attitude of forgiveness and granting it is that with the latter the relationship is restored. The former precludes any sort of bitterness or vindictiveness.

        As you pointed out, I build my case with the logic of the Gospel at every turn. Exegetically, the logic of the Gospel would be involved in the passages you mentioned.

        Have you read Jones, Embodying Forgiveness?

        Sorry, about misspelling your name. . . and, for the brevity of this response. Please forgive me.


  4. […] Of course, the title of this post is not a new question here at “A Brick in the Valley.”  But, Timmie Brister has raised it on his blog.  You might stop by there and read his insights which are well worth considering.  (Click here). […]

  5. Tom Hicks Says:

    A clear definition of forgiveness would be helpful in deciding the case. How is “forgiveness” biblically defined?

  6. Tom Hicks Says:

    One other thought… Since Christ paid for the sins of the elect, and since the sufferings of the unregenerate/unjustified elect cannot be penal (or else their would double payment since Christ paid for *all* their sins), then couldn’t there be some sense in which the elect are forgiven prior to faith? I’m not advocating eternal justification.

    Benjamin Keach argued for a distinction between representative and actual justification. The elect are representatively justified prior to faith but are actually justified after faith. I wonder, then, if there might be a similar sort of division/distinction between kinds of forgiveness. Perhaps there is one sense in which we are to forgive people prior to their repentance and another since in which we are to forgive them after repentance.


    • Tom,

      That’s a great question. We had a member of Grace actually bring that up (fortunately not during the group study but afterward in private interaction). I don’t know the answer to that question, but it is one worth pondering. I will give it some more thought.


  7. Clarifying what entails forgiveness is key and the role both the human forgiver plays as well as the role that God plays in the life of the sinner. When I first started skimming through this article to determine if I should read more deeply, I thought you were talking about the forgiveness of God. When I realized that you were talking about human forgiveness, then I had to ask myself the question, “What’s the difference?”

    That is to say that true forgiveness comes from God. Inasmuch as we practice the pattern of forgiveness, we imitate God, but we cannot forgive as Christ forgave. Only Christ can pay for sin. That means that when we extend forgiveness to the unrepentant, we bring the gospel to bear on the situation. Our conscience in the matter is cleansed at that time and the rest must be according to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

    However, God can extend forgiveness himself when we have not and one can repent when no human forgiveness has been extended. At this moment it becomes incumbent on the one who has not extended forgiveness to do so lest they become the sinner and repentance can bring this about.

    At this, the two scenarios you offer break down because the true forgiveness from God logically precedes the sin. If we practice God’s forgiveness, then we must anticipate sin and be prepared to extend forgiveness where no sin has occurred yet. This is especially true for the Christian because we have already been forgiven. And if we don’t live like this, then we endanger our assurance.

    • Jane Southern Says:

      When Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, it was not then that we were forgiven. We were forgiven when we repented (acknowledged sin, confessed that sin to the offended, turned from sin to holiness, and made restitution wherever possible). We should offer forgiveness to others in the same manner…when they repent.

      See thread on this subject here, particularly posts #8 and #9: http://www.ausdisciples.com.au/forum/showthread.php?535-Blanket-Forgiveness-of-the-Unrepentant-is-False-Doctrine

      Post #9 refers to Rev. Phil Schlamp’s 10 part series Forgiveness, Will that be One Goat or Two? and answers many of the questions set forth on this page.


      • Unless you are saying that Jesus’ death on the cross is not God’s chose method for forgiving our sins, then you are conflating offering forgiveness with receiving forgiveness through repentance. The reason I say this is because you write: “We should offer forgiveness to others in the same manner…when they repent.” That means that you must believe that God only offers forgiveness to us after we repent. I hold that God’s gracious forgiveness in justice was on the cross and we receive that forgiveness by faith when we repent. Likewise, we can offer forgiveness prior to repentance.

        But this is askew of my original point that our forgiveness is not after the same manner of God’s. We are not the originators of moral law, but only the benefactors of it. Therefore, when someone sins against us, it is God they transgress. We may act out eventual offerings of forgiveness when others deny the benefits that God would have them give us by following His moral law, but in reality, since we have likewise transgressed God’s law we must be ready to offer forgiveness at all times because of the forgiveness given to us by the cross of Christ.

        • Jane Southern Says:

          You misunderstood what I wrote: I will clarify by adding 2 words: When Jesus died on the cross to *make atonement* for the sins of the whole world, it was not then that we were forgiven. Atonement paid the price. We were forgiven when we repented. He did His part. We are to do our part.

          To “offer forgiveness” is not Biblical. We are commanded to forgive “as” (Grk: “just as”) Christ forgave. Col 3:13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: *even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.* God didn’t “offer forgiveness” to the people before The Flood, or before he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. He just warned them to repent or else suffer the consequences.

          It is incorrect that we cannot be offended. Jesus said we could be. We are to crucify our own flesh and not allow ourselves to become bitter. The way to not become bitter is TO REBUKE. NO ONE DOES THAT. Pastor Schlamp said in his lifetime NO ONE has obeyed Jesus’ command in Mt 18 below because people refuse to rebuke and no one takes a dispute to the church. They instead TOLERATE sin and smile which is hypocrisy and in effect says there is no price to pay for sin, thus diminishing the impact and power of the gospel. This is seen clearly where Christians “forgive” mass murderers and so forth because that is not biblical forgiveness.

          Mt 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
          16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
          17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

          A picture: A farmer says he will pay a man $50 to mow his field. If a man accepts and does it, he gets paid. If he walks away he won’t get paid. Atonement is the same. It is on the table for anyone who will repent and receive Christ’s forgiveness by faith. Repentance is an integral part in coming to Christ and being forgiven. So it must be before we forgive others. It is those who keep the commandments who receive the positive promises, not those who are hearers only.

          Forgiveness without repentance is heresy. It is also ineffective. I stand ready to forgive anyone who repents and I am not bitter. God wants separation between the righteous and the unrighteous and some offenses cause division just as Jesus said.

          Lu 12:51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; *but rather division:*

          Tit 3:10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition **reject;**
          11 Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.

          Reject (Grk paraiteomai) means “to beg off, i.e. deprecate, decline, shun:–avoid, (make) excuse, intreat, refuse, reject.”

          We are not excused by Grace. We have to do our part. Confession of sin and Repentance are essential to receiving Forgiveness. Absent either of those, Forgiveness should never be granted. That is how Christ forgave us.

          • Jane Southern Says:

            Addendum: The gospel being pushed by the Globalists who have brought in the New World Order is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. The globalist gospel seeks to push everyone to the Lukewarm center of ecumenism and tolerance for evil. It requires true Christians lower their standards and have Consensus with the ungodly, which is the opposite of what Jesus preaches.

            Some who push Unconditional Forgiveness are just deceived. Others are Transformational Marxist Change Agents for the New World Order and should repent.


            • I don’t like Marxism any more than any other authentic conservative capitalist, but you’re just getting freaky importing all this political baggage into a theological discussion. Conspiracies are by nature bereft of facts since conspirators don’t like to share them.

              I don’t see where Paul got caught up in sniffing out the conspiracies in Nero’s administration or Jesus went for disclosing the truth about Herod. (He did rail against the religious leaders among the Jews however.) Rather, by their pattern we should understand it to be more fruitful and biblical to proclaim the gospel positively (what we truly believe rather than what we don’t believe) and let God take care of the political conspiracies. He has a way with that.

              As for the fallout from the conspiracies when heresies come into the church, John’s example in his first letter when he answered the lies of the gnostics was to do the same and answer them with the positive truth rather than the negative denial of the lies. That’s how to answer in such a way that people recognize that you speak with biblical authority. Try that. It’s more effective.

              • Jane Southern Says:

                Theology cannot be separated from geo-political events especially when the Bible shows a great end time empire run by a beast system. Conspiracies are not bereft of facts and are facts, not theories. Just open your eyes. How did a Muslim get to be President of the US just 7 years after 9/11?

                Paul most certainly referred to conspiracies. and referred to the identity of the Anti-Christ in 1 Thes 2:1-12 (particularly v 5). 2Th 2:5 “Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?”

                According to many writers throughout history, he didn’t actually name the AC at that time but referred to the AC above because true Christians were at that time already persecuted by the beast. “Son of perdition” is only twice in the Bible, once for Judas and once for the AC, a false religious system, Catholicism and its predecessors, Mithraicism and Baal worship. Source: Prof. Walter Veith, Total Onslaught (36 DVDs) – http://amazingdiscoveries.org/webstore/us/p/200b-total-onslaught-36-dvd . Some of these are available on YouTube or VEOH.

                >>>answer them with the positive truth rather than the negative denial of the lies.

                “Positivism” is a global propaganda toll of the globalists to deceive people, especially Christians.

                See, Erica Carle — Shaping Your Future, Whether You Like it Or Not!, Part 1 of 3
                http://www.newswithviews.com/Erica/Carle21.htm

                “Positive Thinker” Norman Vincent Peale was a 33rd Degree Mason as is Billy Graham. All Masons above the 30th Degree know they worship Lucifer. This is clear from Catholic, Freemason and other writings. Source: Prof. Walter Veith (see above).

                I didn’t come here to fight with you but you need to broaden your research to conclude facts about real ongoing conspiracies.


          • “To “offer forgiveness” is not Biblical.”

            I was using your own language language in what I could construe could be its most biblical sense for you wrote earlier:

            “We should offer forgiveness to others in the same manner…when they repent.”

            But you completely ignored my central point and go on as though I believe something I do not, namely that there is forgiveness without repentance. That’s not the issue. Try again.

  8. D.L. Kane Says:

    Perhaps these three examples will help us to think through this:

    1. You discover that your financial advisor has invested and lost your life savings. Do you forgive him? Yes. Do you have to prove that forgiveness by keeping him as a financial advisor? No.

    2. After your wife dies, you discover letters between her and another man which expose that she had been committing adultery for a 5 year period of time during your marriage? Repentance and reconciliation are out of the question. She is dead. Do you forgive her?

    3. Your spouse comes to you and tells you that they have been diagnosed with AIDS; believe that they are homosexual; no longer believe in God or Christ; realize that they may have infected you with the AIDS virus; and want a divorce. Are you to forgive them? Yes. Must that forgiveness lead to their repentance and the two of you being reconciled in order to be genuine forgiveness?


  9. My viewpoint was put into children’s book form. “Don’t Hug a Grudge” which gives an over view of the stages of unforgiveness and how to walk as an overcomer that heeds God’s Word. Ph 2:13 Amplified “(Not in your own strength) for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you (energizing and creating in you the power and desire), both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.” We agree with Him and ‘follow after love’, not ‘follow after our emotions’.
    Twitter/OrvillesMom
    Facebook Pages/Donna Perugini Books

  10. Todd Says:

    Timmy,
    Like you I find this question complex. I often wonder how it is we attempt to pattern our forgiveness after God’s forgiveness of us but are not ever positionally in the same place the Triune God is when it comes to sin and forgiveness.

    Reading the Scriptures I find some merit in underscoring that forgiveness for us is a matter of control and power. Human to human forgiveness must come under the umbrella of love your neighbor, I think. If I withhold forgiveness from another I am assuming a posture “over” another, or so it seems to me. In that position “over” another I find it difficult to view the other person worthy of my love. It seems easy to be dismissive.

    I once read an excerpt from a philosopher who contended that our unwillingness to forgive the unforgivable in another indicates we are really not willing to forgive anything. He may have loosely set his sights on Jesus’ words concerning forgiveness. I do not know. What struck me was what we do with “un-forgiveness.” How we treat the one we refuse to forgive. That for me pushes me toward an unconditional forgiveness.

    Thanks for the thought provoking question this Monday morning.

  11. Thomas Clay Says:

    Jay Adams has wonderful teaching on this very subject. I would suggest his book “From Forgiven To Forgiving” as a place to start.

  12. Sherie Says:

    I have personally struggled with this topic both as someone who needs to give forgiveness, but also as someone in need of it. I believe that not only do we need to define forgiveness, but also repentance. If we don’t know what repentance looks like then how do we repent so other believe it, or know if others are repentant?

    As Jim shared there are three (or more) parties involved. The offender, the offended, and Christ. In my case my pastor felt offended. Rather than seeking to work through the issues or correct my unbiblical thinking he found a way out by deciding I was an unbeliever. No specifics have been given regarding my offenses, but he removed me from the church and has had the entire church cut off contact with me. As my faith it the most important thing in my life I took this very seriously and dealt directly with God because the pastor would not communicate and never called out sin. God did reveal some things to me where I lacked faith and where I held incorrect beliefs. I have gone through counseling, discipleship, and worked with other pastors/ministry leaders to correct my thinking, and change my ways. I have full assurance that I have repented (I define it as turning completely from my ways that were against God’s standards and turning to him with a commitment to not return to my old ways) and that I have the Lord’s forgiveness. My life has been very transformed through this and I am amazed by the Lord’s forgiveness and grace for this sinner. The pastor has been unwilling to communicate or learn about these changes, and recently told me that he does not believe my repentance is genuine.

    So, if I have sinned against God and have been forgiven by God haven’t I repented? I have offered to reconcile, make restitution, and do anything that is needed to resolve the unknown issues with the pastor and the church but so far he has been unwilling to receive. While I think both of us believe more in conditional forgiveness, how do we define what is true repentance and when forgiveness should be granted?

    Galatians 1:10 reads “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Earlier Chris mentioned that we could forgive too easily and not lead people to repentance that leads to salvation, but if we take conditional forgiveness too far are we forcing the offender to please man? Are we acting like we are God and therefore we are in sin and in need of repentance?

  13. Chris Brauns Says:

    On a practical level, this diagram gives a big picture look at how I see things fitting together.

    • Jane Southern Says:

      God does not always want Reconciliation. Sometimes he wants Separation. We should not go against what the Lord wants. Unconditional forgiveness says there is no price for sin and the price should be known. Unconditional forgiveness is New Age and further it distorts the holiness of God and causes people to lose their fear of God

      Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

      “The chief danger of the 20th century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.” – William Boothe (Apr. 10, 1829-Aug. 20, 1912), founder Salvation Army.

      “We are so loving and so kind and so forgiving that the children’s sense of justice is distorted and in the end it breeds rebellion.”

      “Forgiveness is one of the most misunderstood subjects in all of Christendom.”

      “Unconditional forgiveness is worse than Catholicism’s sale of indulgences.”

      – from Forgiveness: Will that be One Goat or Two?

  14. Chris Says:

    Timmy,

    I’m sort of responding to this in segments . . .in the spirit of blogging . . .

    I’m trying to be fair with the interpretation of Luke 17 that you mentioned, the idea that it doesn’t preclude forgiving the unrepentant. That doesn’t seem very compelling to me. Christ did explicitly give the condition.

    Of course, the other party could then counter with the Mark passage. So, I think we need to take a look at the big picture theologically and go back to the central principle that we forgive as God forgives.

    Forgiving as God forgives is clearly the point of Matt 6:14-15 given 6:12.

    Lots to think about . . .

  15. t.wood Says:

    This is a question I had not really thought of until Chris Brauns book. So I am still not sure what I believe about it. One question I have with the idea that “forgive as God forgives” means forgive only if the other party repents is that God can work in someone’s life to bring about repentance, I can’t. God also knows if someone is truly repentant, i can’t.
    I am not even sure how these things play into it, but it seems like they do.

  16. pastorjonathan1 Says:

    I guess the real question is how did God forgive us?

    Didn’t God as the offended party reach out to us as the offenders through the atoning sacrifice of Christ?

    In this case isn’t reconciliaton sought through the forgiveness of debt on the part of the offended?

    While repentance might be the necessary response of an offender who has nothing else to offer at the table of reconciliation, does this stop the offended from offering forgiveness before there is repentance?

    In short, I think we are supposed to offer forgiveness and wait for repentance.

  17. Jess @ DAILY Says:

    I am not going to try to use “Christian-ese” here. I’m just going to say it. I also did not read anyone’s comments yet.

    I see forgiveness from God as a gift – literally. It’s a
    beautifully wrapped present to the world, waiting for us on a table. He offers it to anyone whom wants it.
    While many choose to accept this gift by repentance and seeking to live after Him, others choose not to accept the gift. While God did indeed forgive them, if one chooses to decline the gift – it’s not theirs.
    I believe it would be ridiculous to imply or state that if someone offered me the gift of a book, but I declined it, that it would be considered mine. The giver may hold on to the book for me, in the hopes that one day I choose to accept it, but the gift is not mine until I accept it.

    So, I believe as Christians, we are to offer forgiveness, but the act is not completed until the offender has repented and sought to claim that forgiveness in return.

    I see many things in Scripture that seem contradictory, yet, are not. To be first, we must be last. Love others as you do yourself (which is a conundrum since we are lovers-of-self, yet we also seem to love doing things that corrupt ourselves, a form of self-hatred). The list goes on.
    We trust, we obey, we have faith that God knows what He is doing, even when we don’t always understand.

    I believe that because of all of these things, forgiveness is a little bit of both. It is unconditional in that God wants us to offer that gift to those who have offended us. Yet, I also believe it is conditional, because the act itself cannot be fulfilled until the offending party has repented and sought restoration as well. I don’t believe it has to be seen as one or the other. For our part, it must be unconditional, but for the act as a whole, it is fully conditional.

    I hope that made some sort of sense!


  18. […] Forgiveness: is it unconditional or conditional? […]

  19. Barry Says:

    This is a vital discussion. A couple of things are often overlooked however: 1) There is a difference between forgiving and simply refusing to retaliate. Often individuals think they are to “forgive” when in actuality they are simply called upon Scripturally to refuse to retaliate. Forgiveness is a judicial term that means literally to declare someone guilt or debt free. If someone has not repented of his wrong, he cannot logically be declared to be eligible for forgiveness or the declaration that he is no longer guilty or debt-ridden. 2) There are two groups of wrongdoers that need to be identified in Scripture: brethren(other Christians) and the lost(non-Christians). Interestingly, it is often thought that we must “forgive” the brother who wrongs us, while holding the unsaved accountable. In actuality, if we are to “forgive” or, more accurately ‘forbear’ anyone it is to be the lost, so as to convict their hearts with our Christlike example and win them, while brethren who wrong us are to be confronted with their wrong, if we truly love them and are concerned for them, in order to deliver them from having to answer to their Heavenly Father for the wrong they have done to us, or have done to others. Lord bless.


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