Before we delve
into the subject, let’s determine what forgiveness really means. Some
Dictionary: To pardon, absolve
To give up resentment of
To grant relief from payment of
Strong’s Hebrew Definition: salach (saw-lakh’)
To forgive:–forgive, pardon, spare
Strong’s Greek Definition: aphiemi (af-ee’-ay-mee)
To cry, forgive, forsake, lay aside, leave, let (alone, be, go, have), omit,
put (send) away, remit, suffer, yield up
Perhaps it is
more helpful to define what forgiveness is NOT.
not ignoring, disregarding, tolerating, excusing, overlooking, or closing one’s
eyes to the sin of another person.
It is not
simply letting time pass after the offense has been committed and then “getting
It is not
resigning one’s self to the other person’s sinful actions by saying, “Well,
that’s just the way s/he is and I’m stuck with her/him for life, so I’ll just
It is not
letting things “roll off our backs”or agreeing to make a “fresh start” without
confronting the problem.
To engage in these behaviors not only condones sin, but also
perpetuates it, and as Christians, we are forbidden to do so.
Model of Forgiveness
gave us a three-step model of forgiveness among believers in the Gospel of
Luke. He said: “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee,
rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee
seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I
repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Lk. 17:3-4) (emphasis added).
Step One: Rebuke — Jesus clearly tells us that if a
“brother,” meaning a believer, sins against us, we are first to rebuke him.
What does this mean? To rebuke is to criticize sharply, to reprimand. This
plays nicely into the Christian principle of speaking the truth in love. To
rebuke a brother is not an act done with a hateful or prideful heart. No. In
fact, it could easily be compared to the behavior of a loving mother correcting
her child for a behavior that will bring harm to her child and/or others. She
may raise her voice and speak sternly, but she does so with a loving heart and
tongue. We are to rebuke our brothers privately, and with humble hearts.
Step Two: Repentance — Jesus tells us that our forgiveness is
conditional upon the brother’s repentance after the rebuke. To repent in the
broad biblical sense is to turn away from sin. Repentance is not simply a
reform of one’s behavior, although genuine repentance ultimately results in
reformed behavior. Instead, repentance is the sincere feeling of remorse, and a
heartfelt search for forgiveness. A believer does not get to that place without
first feeling the burden of Holy Spirit conviction. The natural response of a
believer to Holy Spirit conviction is acknowledgement that one has sinned,
followed by true remorse and repentance. The kind of repentance God demands,
knowing the interaction of the indwelling Holy Spirit with His children, is one
that has visible results to others: fruits. The great Apostle Paul discussed
his gospel with King Agrippa, saying “that they should repent and turn to
God, doing works worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20). Also, John the
Baptist said, “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance” (Lk.
3:8). True repentance is always evident and visible through the changed hearts
and fruit bearing works of the repentant. That kind of transformation is
evident to believers and unbelievers alike. It’s obvious to all who interact
with the person and witness his or her daily conduct. Jesus gives us more
insight into this dilemma when he spoke these words:
thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee
and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will
not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or
three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear
them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be
unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever
ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose
on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you
shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be
done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are
gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mat. 18:15-20).
practical and relational sense, repentance begins with the offender recognizing
his or her wrongdoing. This recognition always includes an admission of guilt
to the offended party. The person who has committed the offense is required to
confess the wrongdoing and express remorse to the offended person for the
sinful acts. Afterwards, the offender is to make a commitment not to repeat the
offense. Ultimately, the purpose of this process is to express guilt and
remorse to the offended person in an attempt to gain forgiveness so that the
two people can repair the relationship. Without this process being fulfilled in
its entirety, forgiveness is impossible.
Step Three: Forgiveness — If the first two steps have been
completed, and the fruits of sincere repentance have been observed, Jesus
commands the offended party to forgive his brother, as He has forgiven us.
forgiveness is canceling a debt to all those who intentionally offend us,
whether or not they own up to what they have done and repent. Offering
forgiveness without repentance, however, does not follow the biblical model of
forgiveness, as previously outlined in Luke 17:3-4.
The Bible says
we are to forgive as God forgave us. It is written in Ephesians 4:32, “And be
ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for
Christ’s sake hath forgiven you,” and Colossians 3:13 states, “Forbearing one
another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even
as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
However, God withholds His forgiveness until we repent: “And saying,
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom
of God is at hand: repent
ye, and believe the gospel” (Mk. 1:15).
“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those
eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they
were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lk.
13:3-5). “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted
out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”
God does not
grant forgiveness to those of us who continue to act with prideful arrogance
against Him, and against our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must recognize
our sin and repent to receive and enjoy God’s merciful forgiveness. We must
exhibit this same behavior in our relationships in the Body. God requires repentance
and so must we.
person maintains a false sense of control over his life through pride, which
inevitably leads to destruction, violence, and animosity. This is because an
unrepentant heart is conceived in the child of the devil: “The fear of the LORD
is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth,
do I hate” (Prov. 8:13).
“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). “A man’s pride shall bring
him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit” (Prov. 29:23).
God is necessary to break the cycle of destructive behaviors and patterns of
relating to others. If, as believers, we don’t require repentance on the part
of the offender, we stand in the way of that person coming to see his or her
need for God and experiencing His forgiveness. To put it simply, forgiveness is
a two-way process: repentance on the part of the offender and pardon on the
part of the offended.