Sunday, February 21, 2010

do not forgive without repentance

What if the other party is not repentant, should I forgive? No. Ok, but what then should I do?

Chris Brauns offers a decent answer using Romans 12.17-21 as an outline.

17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Principle 1: Resolve not to take revenge
Principle 2: Proactively show love
Principle 3: Don't forgive the unrepentant but leave room for the wrath of God

I think the first principle is self-explanatory and not contentious. The same with the second but let's highlight, love needs to be genuine, i.e., authentic, and "Christians should dream of how they can pursue peace even with their enemies. Rather than lying in bed picturing how we might retaliate ..."

It is the third principle, don't forgive the unrepentant, which doesn't set well with many. And this is compounded with the liberal denial of God's wrath.

But Romans 12.19b is consistent with John 20.23 which does not at all imply that all are to be forgiven ... it does however reinforce the seriousness of our role in forgiveness which is to be granted as often as it is requested (Lk 17.3b-4).

An example of Paul not always forgiving is found in 2 Timothy 4.14-15. In addition, he confronts the notion held by some that we cannot confront error/sin - a idea based on a wrong understanding of texts such as Matthew 7.1 and Luke 6.37. True love will want to remind (1 Cor 13.6) others that God's judgement is certain (Heb 9.27).

Some overlook the overall story-line of Scripture by cherry picking texts they perceive support Jesus forgave without requiring repentance. An example of cherry picking is Luke 23.33-34. Some would say Jesus gave forgiveness with no evidence of repentance. But notice that Jesus' words are not that they have been forgiven or that he now forgives them, he is praying for their future forgiveness. These words stand in contrast to the language of Lk 5.20-24; 7.49; 23.43 - all of which were preceded by some act or statement of faith and repentance on the part of the one being forgiven. Stephen's prayer in Acts 7.60 parallels those of Jesus in Luke 23.33-34. These words are asking for future forgiveness and an example of the fruit of this is Paul's conversion and forgiveness (which came after a mighty encounter with God and repentance).

Some point out that repentance is not an explicit prerequisite to forgiveness in Matthew 6.12, 14-15 and 18.21-22. This is true but given we are told to forgive even as God forgives, I understand the repentance prerequisite to be implicit. And it should not be overlooked that Matthew 18.21-22 is sandwiched between Jesus' teaching on Church discipline (Mt 18.15-20) and a parable teaching that people should be forgiven when they repent (Mt 18.23-35).

In summary, John Murray [“A Lesson in Forgiveness,” in The Collected Writings of John Murray] writes:

Forgiveness is a definite act performed by us on the fulfillment of certain conditions…. Forgiveness is something actively administered on the repentance of the person who is to be forgiven. We greatly impoverish ourselves and impair the relations that we should sustain to our brethren when we fail to appreciate what is involved in forgiveness.

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