If He Repent, Forgive Him
by Patrick T. Donahue
Jesus said in Luke 17:3, "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him." Many, even Christians, evidently are more "charitable" than God himself, and more "charitable" than God instructs us to be in this verse. They teach that we are to forgive people of sins they commit against us, even without the repentance on the part of the one who has sinned. I quote from a article written recently by a gospel preacher: "Yet someone might ask, 'How can we be expected to forgive one who has not yet repented? Isn't that asking too much?' Not it is not!" I am not sure about everything that the writer of this article may have had in mind in these statements, but what is actually said certainly seems to contradict Lk 17:3 doesn't it?
We Are Only To Forgive After Repentance
The truth is that we are to forgive our "brother" if, and only if, he repents. A comparison of Lk 17:3 to some similarly worded passages will verify this fact. In I Cor 15:2, Paul speaking of the gospel said, "By which also ye are saved, IF ye keep in memory what I preached unto you ..." The "if' in this verse imples that if the Corinthians didn't keep in memory what Paul had preached unto them, they would not be saved by the gospel. I Jn 1:9 reads, "IF we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins ..." It is easy to see that the "if" in this verse implies that if we don't confess our sins, God will not forgive us of our sins. Jesus said in Mt 6:14, "For IF ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you ..." The implication is that if we don't forgive others, then God will not forgive us. And that is exactly what is stated by Jesus in the very next verse. Now back to Lk 17:3, "IF he repent, forgive him." Can we not also see that the "if" in this verse implies that if the brother does not repent, then we are not to forgive him?
We should also be able to realize the truth of Lk 17:3b by all the passages that teach that God does not forgive until repentance occurs (Lk 13:3, Acts 17:30, 2:38, 8:22, etc.). If God forgives only after repentance on the part of the sinner, doesn't it make sense that he instructs us to do the same?
What This Does Not Mean
The fact that we are not to forgive one until he repents does not mean the following things:
1. It does not mean that we harbor resentment toward that person until we forgive. No, we should never harbor resentment toward anyone for any reason.
2. It does not mean that we have pent-up hostility toward anyone, ever.
3. It does not mean that we hate the one who has sinned against us.
4. It does not mean that we do not love the person who has sinned against us.
5. It does not mean that we do not forgive once one does repent; no we must forgive and forget once repentance occurs.
6. It does not mean that we come under the censure of Mt 6:15, "But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Since Lk 17:3 teaches us that we are not to forgive without repentance, then Mt 6:15 must be condemning one person who will not forgive a second person, even when the second person does repent.
What This Does Mean
The fact that we are not to forgive one until he repents does mean the following things:
1. This does mean that we are NOT to tell someone that they are all right even before they repent. This could cause the person to lose his salvation at the end because we did not warn him as we ought (Ez 3:18). If you tell him that he is o.k., then he is less likely to eventually repent. Why should he, if he thinks he is o.k.?
2. This does mean that we are to continue to rebuke the person. That is what our text says, "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him ..." Once he repents, and we forgive him, then we are not to continue to rebuke him. But until he repents, he needs rebuking.
Maybe some think we ought to forgive regardless. But Jesus said, "if he repent, forgive him." That is what I say.
[Editors Note: Thanks to Pat Donahue for the article! Pat can be reached at: Patrick T. Donahue, 4607 Old Railroad Bed Road, Harvest, AL 35749, PatDonahue@mail.com]
Email the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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