Post by Pastor Tim – Most of us are more experienced finding “forgiveness loopholes” than in finding ways to practice forgiveness. That is because we are challenged by 1) Difficult cases of sin, like I referred to in my last post, 2) Popular and even scholarly teachings on forgiveness from the secular world, which we implicitly assume must be compatible with the Christian understanding and practice of forgiveness, and 3) A general lack of agreement among modern-day Christian leaders on how, when, and why to forgive, each citing the Bible persuasively and conclusively in their teaching. And not to be overlooked, of course, is our own sin-nature which fights against forgiveness every step of the way and deceives us into believing that we are well-served by finding loopholes rather than plunging through eyes of needles by the grace of God.
One of those complicated and recurring “forgiveness topics” that divides Christians today is the question, Which comes first: forgiveness or repentance? (Just do a Google search and you’ll find a wide variety of opinions among notable Christian ministries.) But I think that Pastor Foley hit the nail on the head when he said that God’s forgiveness was actually offered before repentance. In other words, we were offered forgiveness by Jesus giving his own life, while we were still sinners, while we were still his enemies. Christ’s forgiveness paved the way for our repentance, not the other way around.
But how should this scriptural truth influence our day-to-day interpersonal forgiveness? I love how the late Michael Spencer, aka Internet Monk, captured the practical, simple nature of our forgiveness when said,
If we are following Jesus through this world, every situation we meet is one where forgiveness is normal. There’s no need to get very technical about it. If you were hanging out with Jesus, you’d hear forgiveness announced all the time. While I am not Jesus, I relate to every person through him, his cross and through his forgiveness.
We can make a career of looking for the forgiveness loopholes, but our reliance on technicalities which exempt our own particular unforgivenesses from further scrutiny and resolution often takes us away the fostering of a personality of and predisposition toward forgiveness that we should have, independent of circumstance.
But what about those complicated situations where repentance is needed and hasn’t yet happened? The Internet Monk continued by saying,
What about the person who won’t repent? I can still forgive them as Christ would. I can offer forgiveness and embody it. But without specific repentance, that forgiveness will be unilateral. Remember Paul’s words?
What were Paul’s words? Paul said,
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
Repentance is important to forgiveness . . . extremely important. But that doesn’t permit us to live our lives demanding repentance from others in exchange for our forgiveness. Practically speaking, this means we should live our lives offering forgiveness to others in light of how God forgave us. Getting someone to repent is not our job. We can’t force anyone to acknowledge their own wrongdoing and repent from it. What we can do is to be predisposed to offer forgiveness to others, as an ambassador for Christ, imploring others to be reconciled to God.