Creating a Secure CHURCH
PART 4 : When Things Go Wrong
Chapter 17 : Thinking about Forgiveness
17.3 The Basics of Biblical Forgiveness
A Common Misunderstanding
There is a common misunderstanding about forgiveness that you hear again and again, but which does NOT correspond with Scripture. The common version is, “You must forgive people regardless of whether or not they are repentant.” Now that is inaccurate in one specific way which is very important to God – it minimises the awfulness of sin. What it in fact says is, “It’s all right that you have sinned against me, it doesn’t matter.”
Biblical Forgiveness is based on God’s forgiveness:
Col 3:13 Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Now when we examine how God forgives, we see that it is ONLY after repentance. We mustn’t confuse this with two things:
• God loves us
• God sent Jesus to die in our place.
Now as we went to lengths to say in Book One, God loves us unconditionally, but don’t let that become ‘God excuses our Sin’. He never does that, He has too serious a view about Sin, so serious that the only way to deal with it was with the life of His Son!
Yes, Jesus did die in our place, but it is very clear from Scripture that to receive the work of the Cross we have to believe it and come to God in repentance, specifically seeking his forgiveness. Throughout the Old Testament period the prophets preached repentance. When John the Baptist came he preached repentance (Mt 3:1,2). When Jesus came he preached repentance (Mt 4:17). When the Holy Spirit came on Peter on the day of Pentecost, he preached repentance (Acts 2:38), which would open the door for forgiveness (see that same verse).
Nowhere in Scripture does God forgive without there first being repentance, but the moment there is repentance, forgiveness is guaranteed.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary says, “Human ‘forgiveness’ is to be strictly analogous to divine ‘forgiveness,’ e.g. Matt 6:12. If certain conditions are fulfilled, there is no limitation to Christ’s law of ‘forgiveness,’ Matt 18:21,22, The conditions are repentance and confession, Matt 1815-17, Luke 17:3″.
Love before Repentance
Now if we are to forgive as God forgives, it also means we are to love as He loves, and He loves before there is repentance. That’s why we said we need to distinguish between love and forgiveness. You CAN love but not forgive, because forgiveness has to do more with a judicial proclamation than with feelings.
The Christian requirement from Jesus is that we love our enemies (Mt 5:44) which means holding a good attitude towards people who are clearly against us which may go even beyond your offender.
This sort of forgiveness process is much more onerous than the casual or cheap forgiveness so often expounded. This forgiveness calls a spade a spade while at the same time holding an open non-hostile heart towards the offender.
This sort of forgiveness confronts your offender (Mt 5:23,24) but works for reconciliation, approaching your offender with a gentle heart (Gal 6:1) looking for their good – because how can love do anything less than this!
When Jesus was teaching, the ‘law’ that he brought sought to counteract any desires for revenge by going much further and requiring is to do something positive by means of countering the offence (that was the purpose of ‘eye for eye’ – Mt 5:38).
The Scriptural Strategy for Forgiveness
The following is the process that the Scriptures show us for properly dealing with offences:
1. Someone abuses you. (Probably there is a time lag as you cope with it).
2. You confront that person with their offence
3. They repent and ask your forgiveness.
4. You declare your forgiveness and the two of you are reconciled.
That’s how it is supposed to be! On occasion it may be that stage 2 is omitted because God convicts them before you have an opportunity to face them up with it.
But it’s that stage 2 that most of us would prefer to avoid and simply say, “Oh, it’s all right, I forgive them.” But that’s not forgiveness, that’s condoning sin. As we said above, it takes real grace to confront someone in such a way that you want their good as well as yours.
What happens if stage 3 doesn’t happen? You do one of two things: you either leave it for the Lord to bring conviction, or you go to a leader in the church for it to be taken a stage further. We’ll pick up the latter option in a later chapter where we focus more on correction.
You may have to leave it if the person is not in your church and having confronted them, there is nothing more you can do.