Forgive Only When One Repents (sweat the big stuff)

 (Sweat the Big Stuff)

(by Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.)

So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses (Matthew 18:35).

    14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).)

Many people think we should forgive others even if there is no repentance, and sometimes they invoke the verses above. But if you recall the context of the first verse above, an employee is considerably in debt to his boss, more than he could pay in many years. He falls before his employer, begging forgiveness, and he is forgiven. Later, the employee had a fellow employee who owed him a very small amount, probably a day’s wages, but this forgiven employee would not forgive his fellow employee. Rather, he cast him into jail. When the employer heard of that, he took the employee he had forgiven and cast him into jail.

Notice what difference a little context makes. In the first case, the forgiven employee suddenly became unforgiven when his former repentance was seen to be hypocritical. We are not told about the second employee, but we can assume that his repentance was genuine, and so he was forgiven. Elsewhere, the Lord said, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Repentance is required.

The other two verses above are from the Lord’s Prayer, and the condition for us to be forgiven is to forgive. But does this mean to forgive without repentance, without confessing one’s sins and seeking to turn from them, without making restitution? Absolutely not. How can we be so sure? The Lord Jesus said: “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Even God does not forgive unless we repent.

So if a person rapes and murders your 16 year old daughter, will you forgive him without repentance? If he laughs at you in court, and plea bargains to 15 years in jail, will you be satisfied? There is obviously no repentance. If you have an opportunity to shoot him without anyone finding out, will you?

First, let me give the biblical principle and then I’ll comment on the particulars just given. The biblical principle is that forgiveness always takes place in the context of justice. To forgive without justice is moral compromise. For example, in Romans 3:24-26 we read of Jesus:

24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:23 NKJ).

Verse 26 overwhelmed me in a theology class decades ago, and I’ve been enamored with it since then, and with Jesus, my propitiation. The word “propitiation” means justice, and Paul the Apostle is saying, by the Holy Spirit, that justice was upheld by Jesus, who took our punishment, so that God the Father “might be just and the justified of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Now, let us consider the points above about someone raping and murdering your daughter—would you forgive him? Indeed, you must not without repentance, for he needs to see the justice of the Triune God to bring him to repentance. That does not mean that you’re mean to him, curse him, scream at him, or try to take justice in your own hands by shooting him. As corrupt as our courts are, they are still in charge of capital crimes, though many times the punishment is too light. You should pray for his conversion, not personally seek revenge or be vindictive. But forgiveness is always conditioned on repentance and justice. Moreover, forgiveness is more than just not seeking revenge; it means four things (see Ephesians 4:32): the particular sin is repented of (redemption); justice is upheld (propitiation); the parties are reconciled so that communion is reestablished (reconciliation); and we based those three points on the death of Jesus, both our justice and our righteousness.

Consider a true life example. Some years ago in Texas, a young woman, Karla Faye Tucker, was executed for murdering several people with an ax. She was converted to Christ while in prison by going to church service in prison that she virtually never attended and only went that night to socialize. While there, she got a Bible and began reading it. In the middle of the night, she got on her knees and asked the Triune God for forgiveness. Here is part of an interview Larry King did a month before her death.

KarlaFayeTucker

 

KING:

Does it get worse every day?

TUCKER: No. It gets a little more exciting every day.

KING: Interesting choice of words, Karla.

TUCKER: Yes.

KING: Exciting, how?

TUCKER: Just to see how God is unfolding everything. Every day something new comes up, and it’s exciting to be a part of it because there’s a lot going on, and it’s going to affect a lot of people. And it’s a blessing to be a part of it, and it’s exciting to know that God has a plan for this. [She is speaking of her soon execution.]

KING: So you’re not down?

TUCKER:No. I am not down. A little tired sometimes but not down.

KING:Not pessimistic?

TUCKER: No. Never pessimistic. . . .

[skipping part of the interview]

KING: Finally, you remain up.

TUCKER: Yes.

KING: You have to explain that to me a little more. It can’t just be God?

TUCKER: Yes, it can. It’s called the joy of the Lord. I don’t — when you have done something that I have done, like what I have done, and you have been forgiven for it, and you’re loved, that has a way of so changing you. I mean, I have experienced real love. I know what real love is. I know what forgiveness is, even when I did something so horrible. I know that because God forgave me, and I accepted what Jesus did on the cross. When I leave here, I am going to go be with him.

As she approaches the death chamber, she says to all present:

Yes sir, I would like to say to all of you — the Thornton family and Jerry Dean’s family — that I am so sorry. I hope God will give you peace with this. (She looked at her husband.) Baby, I love you. (She looked at Ronald Carlson.) Ron, give Peggy a hug for me. (She looked at all present weeping and smiling.) Everybody has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. Warden Baggett, thank all of you so much. You have been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you.

Now that is a repentance and forgiven soul! Justice was upheld in the state by executing her, and upheld with God the Father by the atoning death of the Lord Jesus who took her penalty. She had genuinely repented, justice was upheld, the relatives should have forgiven her, but she still had to face the state’s death penalty. She was the first woman executed in Texas since 1863. Her last words were:

Yes sir, I would like to say to all of you — the Thornton family and Jerry Dean’s family — that I am so sorry. I hope God will give you peace with this. (She looked at her husband.) Baby, I love you. (She looked at Ronald Carlson.) Ron, give Peggy a hug for me. (She looked at all present weeping and smiling.) Everybody has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. Warden Baggett, thank all of you so much. You have been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you.

She died by lethal injection in 1998.

But did not Jesus unilaterally forgive those who were crucifying Him with the words “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Was that not unilateral forgiveness without repentance? The answer is determined to some extent by those to whom He was speaking. If to the Jews, the Lord gave them 40 more years to repent before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. If to the Romans who were doing the crucifying, that particular sin may have been sovereignly forgiven. Likewise, regarding Stephen in Acts 7:60 when he was being stoned, said, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” Was that sin answered unilaterally without their (the Jews) repentance? Again, it seems that they were given time to repent regarding who Jesus was, but the majority did not, so the judgment came on them in A.D. 70, about 40 years later, when the Roman General Titus destroyed the city. Truly, if they had repented, there would have been no judgment.

But what about brothers and sisters in Christ; do we forgive them all the time without repentance? Yes, no. We are in a covenant relationship with them by faith in Jesus, and we are family, brothers and sisters. As I pointed out last time on judging, we should overlook 99.9% of problems within the Body of Christ because “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11). All forgiveness in the Body is based on the blood of the covenant that Jesus shed on the cross.:

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

(You must read the one tomorrow (8 October 2014) for balance.)

AMEN.

4 thoughts on “Forgive Only When One Repents (sweat the big stuff)

  1. Super, like usual. Richard Still praying for your (and Ruth’s) health and the extra 15 years to complete your projects. Please continue to pray for my business, it has slowed down.

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