Forgiveness is not reconciliation or reuniting with that person. Reconciliation takes two parties to agree and come together. Forgiveness is an act of faith which is not necessarily forgetting. Here are three things to remember about forgiveness and why it is always necessary.
This question is a perennial problem. Everyone has been hurt by someone who has failed to ask for forgiveness. When friends or loved ones—those closest to us—do something to betray our trust or confidence, our hearts can feel like breaking. When they fail to repent of their offense, insult is added to the injury. Christians don’t always follow the path Christ demands of them. We are sinful and often act selfishly, seeking our own success in life.
We often think to ourselves, “I can’t forgive someone who won’t apologize.” “Forgive? Don’t you know what they did to me?” Or “How can I forget what they did?” These are legitimate questions that we all struggle with. What should we do in these situations? Do we have to forgive the other person even if they fail to repent?
Yes. Forgiveness is not reconciliation or reuniting with that person. Reconciliation takes two parties to agree and come together. Forgiveness is an act of faith which is not necessarily forgetting. Here are three things to remember about forgiveness and why it is always necessary.
1. Forgiveness is necessary because we are sinners in need of grace.
Many places in Scripture point out that we are called to forgive as God has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13). We are to forgive a brother’s offense seventy times seven (Matt. 18:21-22). We are often called to speak to our Christian brothers and sisters to reconcile offenses, even taking it to the church when they don’t (Matt. 18:15). When a Christian fails to repent, the authenticity of their faith is put into question. This is how serious forgiveness and reconciliation are to God, but why is it necessary to forgive when they fail to repent?
First, recognizing our own sinfulness and pride is key. We are called to look at the plank of sin in our own eyes before we call out the speck that exists in the person who offends us (Matt. 7:3-5) We all have fallen short of God’s standard and need mercy just like everyone else (Rom. 3:23).
Second, we cannot demand that God forgive us and fail to forgive others. When dealing with this very issue, Jesus recounted a parable of the wicked servant describing how he was forgiven a great debt by his master. When it came to forgiving a fellow servant, he was impatient and severely judged him. Upon hearing what happened, the master threw this servant into a far more severe punishment because the servant had been unmerciful (Matt. 18:23-35). Likewise, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that if we are forgiven, forgiveness will be a byproduct of our faith (Matt. 6:12).
Third, forgiveness must be freely offered because we have been freely forgiven by God (Eph. 4:32; Matt. 6:12, 14-15). The grace and mercy we have received should cause us to have mercy on those around us. When we learn to meditate on the gospel regularly, we see how much God forgives us before we even ask. Our very repentance needs repenting of. Our tears and acts of repentance are contaminated by false motivations and pride.
God forgives us for things we fail even to recognize as faults. The Psalmist himself cried out “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3; cf. Ps. 76:7). The answer is “no one.” If God were to hold us to the standard of complete repentance for our inborn and actual sins, we would never come to God. And yet as we see, the Lord is overflowing with forgiveness and compassion for us. The Lord sent his Son to die for us while we were enemies and while we could not offer repentance (Rom. 5:6-ff). His goodness overcame our evil, unmerciful hearts.