I will now answer the email question posed by a woman writing to her pastor. If you look at all the New Testament passages I provided on forgiveness (part 1), only one of them had conditions on forgiveness. We read…
Luke 17:3-4 So watch yourselves.”If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Jesus clearly says if the brother in question repents, forgive him; even if he repeatedly sins against you; each time he repents, you are to forgive him. Jesus teaches repentance as a condition before forgiveness. Let’s look at a few other passages of scripture.
In Col. 3:13 the Apostle Paul tells us to forgive as Christ forgives us. How does Christ forgive us? Does Christ forgive us without repentance from our sins? The answer is no. To receive forgiveness from Christ we need to come before Him and ask for forgiveness. Just as Christ freely forgives a repentant sinner, we must be willing to forgive someone who sins against us and repents. Jesus began his ministry in Mark chapter 1:15 by saying “Repent and believe the good news!” Again repentance is a prerequisite for belief. Peter preached a similar message in Acts 2:38 (NIV) Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The Acts passage teaches the need for repentance (and belief) to receive forgiveness from Christ.
Luke 23:34 we see Jesus asking the Father to forgive the Roman soldiers, who were crucifying him, for they know not what they do. The Father, just like Jesus, can only forgive if they repent and believe. Here was an example of Jesus asking the Father to forgive the very same people who put Him on the cross. Only Christianity teaches followers to reach out and love your enemies. The sin of crucifying an innocent man was not unforgivable.
When Stephen asks God to forgive the people stoning him, he seems to be drawing his words from what Jesus said in the Luke 23:34. It was clearly a Christ-like demonstration to all viewing the stoning, including Paul. These are examples of prayers to God on behalf of unbelieving individuals, demonstrating that God will forgive the worst offenders if they choose to repent and ask for forgiveness. It was like Stephen and Jesus was saying, “God as horrible as these sins are, if they look to you and repent, please forgive them.”
I think part of the problem lies in the definition of forgiveness. The apologist, referred to in the email, had a narrow definition and one I think he can justify Biblically. The Bible teaches if the guilty person repents, you are to forgive. Many people have a much broader definition of forgiveness that takes into consideration forgiving unrepentant people with the sole purpose of releasing the burden a person feels when they have been wronged. I agree there has to be a releasing process because if you don’t, the anger can eat you up. However, this releasing process is not what the apologist or I think is the Biblical definition of forgiveness. True forgiveness comes after true repentance.