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Questions & Answers

Forgiveness and repentance

First posted: August 31, 2014

 

Question

 

As we have often shared, Scripture clearly shows that repentance is a requirement for forgiveness, meaning that it is wrong to forgive a person who has not repented. A site visitor was wrestling with whether repentance is indeed a prerequisite for forgiveness, especially due to some verses that do not explicitly mention repentance when calling us to forgive. The passages mentioned by the visitor are the following:

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Matthew 6:12-15

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Matthew 18:35

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Mark 11:25-26

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Luke 6:37

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2 Corinthians 2:3-11

 

The question then becomes,

Do verses such as the ones listed above call us to forgive unrepentant people?

 

To answer this, we shall go through each of these passages to show how these verses do indeed show repentance to be a requirement for forgiveness, especially when they are considered in the context of the surrounding verses.

 

Answer

 

Matthew 18:35

The verse in question reads as follows:

 

"So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (Matthew 18:35)

 

Notice that, in this verse, the Lord ties our forgiveness of others to God's forgiveness of us. As we have shared before, God's forgiveness is always conditioned on repentance. God does not forgive us of our sins until we repent of them and surrender to the Lord. We shall share more on this below. Assuming, however, that God somehow forgives some sins even if we refuse to repent, we must still consider what the Lord says in that same chapter (Matthew 18) a few verses earlier, in verses 15-20. There, He said that, if your brother trespasses against you, you are to confront him in private. Why? To get him to repent. If he hears you, then you have worked salvation in his life. If he does not hear (meaning, if he does not repent), you must bring in 2 or 3 witnesses. If he still does not repent, you must bring in the whole congregation. If he still refuses to repent, you must treat him as a "heathen" (i.e. a Girgashite) and a "publican" (i.e. a Canaanite). Notice that Yeshua did not say, "If thy brother should trespass against thee, forgive him so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you as well". Instead, He calls us to start a "confrontation" process whose intent is to produce repentance in the person. If we are to forgive unconditionally, why would Yeshua say that we are to treat the person as a "heathen" and a "publican" if he refuses to repent even after having been put through the 3-step judgement process? That clearly speaks of holding the trespass against him, not "letting go" of what he did, which clearly speaks of "non-forgiveness", especially since the word for "forgiving" in Greek (used throughout Matthew 18 and the entire New Testament) is aphiemi, which literally means "to loosen, to let go". This is why Yeshua says in Matthew 18:18, immediately after describing the 3-stage judgement process, that "whatsoever ye shall bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven". If we are to forgive unconditionally, wouldn't He have said, "ye shall not bind things or people on Earth so that ye shall not bind thyselves in Heaven, for your Father shall not forgive you if you do not forgive those who do not repent"?

 

In short, when we take Matthew 18:35 in the context of the verses that precede it within the same chapter, it becomes clear that Yeshua was in no way endorsing forgiveness without repentance.

 

Mark 11:25-26

The verses in question read as follows:

 

"25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." (Mark 11:25-26)

 

Again, forgiveness of others is tied to God's forgiveness of us in this passage, which brings us back to the question, "Does God forgive sins we do not repent of?", a question we shall address further down. For now, assuming that there are cases where God forgives a person who stares Him in the Face and says, "I refuse to repent", let us consider what the Lord says earlier in that same chapter. Mark 11:12-14 and Mark 11:20-24 speak of how Yeshua cursed the fig tree that was full of leaves but had no fruit. Even the matriarchal Church preaches that the fig tree refers to the nation of Israel and how God put a judgement on the Jews for rejecting Jesus. If God forgives unconditionally, why did Jesus curse the fig tree and cause it to wither? Why did He punish the fig tree for being fruitless and for hiding its fruitlessness in a multitude of leaves (i.e. human works)? Why didn't He forgive the fig tree and let it be? In Mark 11:15-18, immediately after cursing the fig tree, Jesus is described as casting out the merchants at the Temple and overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of the dove sellers? Why didn't He forgive them for their trespasses? Why was He so offended to the point of unleashing physical violence upon them? Shouldn't He have forgiven them as an example to His followers that they must always forgive their brothers, regardless of their repentance status? From all of this, we can infer that, when Yeshua spoke of forgiveness in Mark 11:25-26, there was clearly an implicit linkage to repentance. Otherwise, what is said about Him earlier in the chapter would show Jesus contradicting Himself. Therefore, when Yeshua suddenly began to speak of forgiveness in Mark 11:25-26, we can conclude that He was actually referring to something else, i.e. to the lack of forgiveness in those with the religious spirit, a lack of forgiveness that says, "If you failed God once, and, if you were somehow 'banned' by God from the privilege of being in the religious hierarchy, you are condemned to life as a lower-level 'untouchable'; God will never forgive you, and you will never have access to Him". If you see Mark 11:25-26 from this perspective (instead of the "forgive and forget" spin that the matriarchals place on these verses), you will see how the sudden change of topic to "forgiveness" within Mark 11 makes perfect sense.

 

Luke 6:37

The verse in question reads as follows:

 

"37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged, condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven" (Luke 6:37)

 

Notice how Yeshua once again ties our forgiveness to how God forgives us, as shown by the preceding verse (verse 36), where He calls us to be merciful just as He is merciful. Do remember, fellow believer, that Yeshua is talking about the same merciful God who told Joshua to massacre every man, woman, child, and animal in Jericho. He is talking about the same merciful God who inspired the psalmist to write that "happy shall be he that taketh and dasheth the little ones of Babylon against the stones" (Psalm 137:9). As we said earlier, we shall say more below on how God forgives, but the point is that Luke 6:36-37 is not speaking of practising "forgiveness" and "mercy" in the same way that the matriarchal Church understands those terms. That aside, consider now what the Lord said 1 chapter earlier, in Luke 5:32 --- "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance", saying this in the context of the religious leaders who refused to forgive the people who had done bad things in their lives but wanted to change. Hence, when Yeshua would bring up the issue of forgiveness in passages such as Luke 6:36-37, He was referring to the refusal of the Old-Covenant believers to accept that God is willing to forgive our sins and open direct, New-Covenant access to anyone who repents with a sincere heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34, with an emphasis on verse 34). Notice also that, as Yeshua opened Himself to the "sinners", He did so to enable repentance in them, as explicitly declared in Luke 5:32; in other words, He did not open Himself to the "sinners" so as to proclaim any type of unconditional forgiveness that does not require repentance.

 

We have shared before on the "judge not" aspect of Luke 6:37 and Matthew 7:1, but it is worth repeating here that this is not an unconditional ban on judgement. Otherwise, Scripture would be contradicting itself, and the Bible would be nothing more than inconsistent gibberish, especially if you consider passages such as 1 Corinthians 5, John 5:30, John 7:24, and 1 Corinthians 16:22-24. In fact, if we took the "judge not" phrase to the extreme that the matriarchal Church normally takes it, we would have to conclude that the best way to get away with sin is by condoning it in others. In other words, since Luke 6:37 says that we shall not be judged if we do not judge others, then we are guaranteed "spiritual immunity" if we look the other way and do not make any judgements when we behold others sinning. If I don't judge others who lie, I shall not be judged by God when I lie. If I don't judge others who steal, I shall not be judged by God when I steal. Naturally, such a conclusion is ludicrous, but that is what we would have to accept if we interpret the "judge not" words in the literal and soulish way that matriarchal believers do. Therefore, the true meaning of Luke 6:36-37 relates to judging others by our soulish parameters. When we condemn others using soulish parameters that are based on our personal preferences and/or our human, religious traditions, we become subject to that very condemnation, even if God would have never judged us in that way. For example, if a woman condemns other women for wearing skirts that do not go all the way down to the ankles, then she becomes subject to condemnation from God when she wears a skirt that goes halfway down between her knees and her ankles, even if God would have never considered that to be "sin". However, since she declared it sin in others and judged them accordingly, God shall judge her by the same unnecessary standards that she imposes on others. If we do not forgive those who have sinned against us and have repented, we shall not be forgiven by God when we repent, even if He would have gladly forgiven us otherwise. Said another way, passages such as Luke 6:37 are actually adding an additional requirement to forgiveness besides the repentance requirement. If I place additional burdens on others beyond the ones that God would place on me, I shall not only be accountable for the legitimate burdens that God placed on me but for the ones that I artificially placed on others.

 

It is worth noting that Luke 6 has additional elements of prophetic sacrifice that go beyond the issue of apostolic judgement. In other words, Luke 6 is a prophetic exhortation to give ourselves in prophetic sacrifice and pay a price, even for evil people, in order to work repentance and transformation in them (such as what Stephen did on Saul of Tarsus's behalf). This is unrelated to the issue of forgiveness itself. When God gave His Son in sacrifice for all of mankind, He was not officially forgiving all of mankind. He was opening a way for them to repent and be forgiven and restored. Hence, giving yourself in sacrifice for others and forgiving them are two separate things. We share more on the prophetic elements in Luke 6 in the article entitled "Luke 6:38". The section "Don't shout me down when I'm praying good" in the article "Castles in the air" may also be of help.

 

2 Corinthians 2:3-11

The verses in question read as follows:

 

"3 And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you. 5 But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. 6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. 8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. 9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. 10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; 11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices." (2 Corinthians 2:3-11)

 

Here, the call for forgiveness is being issued after the person had gone through a judgement process that had wrought a change of mind in him. In other words, it is not a passage on unconditional forgiveness; instead, it is a passage on not going overboard with the repentance-inducing process. To certify this, consider what Paul says to the Corinthians later in the same epistle, in 2 Corinthians 7:8-12, apparently speaking about the same person as the one in chapter 2:

 

"8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. 9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. 12 Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you." (2 Corinthians 7:8-12)

 

Notice how Paul does not indict the Corinthians for dealing with the sinning person in a zealous way; instead, he praises them for their "revenge" (v11). If God calls us to forgive regardless of repentance, why didn't Paul exhort the Corinthians to forgive the sinner from the beginning. Why did he not exhort the person who had "suffered wrong" (v12) to let go of that "horrible bitterness" and show "Christian love and compassion"? Notice also how Paul used the opportunity to work repentance in the Corinthians themselves by putting them through a "sorrow" process (v9), which was intended to deal with their sin of toleration, i.e.- with their refusal to judge the sin that was taking place right in the midst of them. Does any of this sound like unconditional forgiveness? Does any of this sound like letting bygones be bygones? Therefore, we can safely conclude that the words spoken a mere 5 chapters earlier, in 2 Corinthians 2:3-11, cannot possibly be taken as a validation of forgiveness without repentance.

 

Matthew 6:12-15

The verses in question read as follows:

 

"12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:12-15)

 

Again, this passage tells us to forgive others in the same way that God forgives us. This therefore points once again to the aforementioned question: Does God forgive people who refuse to repent? We shall address that question below.

 

Most believers, even matriarchals, would be willing to concede that a person cannot be born again and forgiven of their sins unless he makes a sincere admission of guilt and expresses a desire to change, all of which requires repentance. A person cannot be born again unless there is a sincere desire to give his life to the Lord and turn from his old ways. Since God's forgiveness does indeed require repentance before the person can be born again, the only place left for God to forgive without requiring repentance would be after one is born again. The question then becomes, Does God forgive unrepentant sins in "Christians"? Mind you, we are no longer talking about forgiveness in the context of going to heaven or hell, for that question is settled when one repents and is born again. Forgiveness, therefore, is now in the context of one's relationship with God on Earth and our eternal rewards. Does God waive the consequences and punishment of unrepentant sin in believers? In other words, does He look the other way and pretend that everything is OK with a believer even if he refuses to repent? To answer this, we must consider several examples.

 

As recorded in Acts 5, when Ananias and Sapphira, two certified believers, told a half-lie about their money offering, God did not say, "Well, they did not mean any harm by it. After all, they did give half of the money from the sale to Me, which was no small sacrifice. Since they are born again, I shall look the other way and forgive them of the improper act they committed." Instead of doing this, God confronted both Ananias and Sapphira through Peter, giving them the opportunity to confess their sin and beg for forgiveness. Unfortunately for them, both Ananias and Sapphira held firm to their lie. God did not then say, "Well, I tried to make them see their error, but I shall forgive them anyway, because that is what I do". Instead, He killed both of them on the spot. There was no "mercy" shown them. There was no forgiveness handed to them, even when all they did was lie about how much of a sacrifice their (very real) offering really was.

 

Another example we can consider is Judas Iscariot. If Jesus was so bent on the notion of forgiveness without repentance, as the matriarchals teach, why did He show no mercy in His heart for Judas Iscariot (Mark 14:21), and why did God the Father not show Him any mercy either and forgive him (Acts 1:17-20, Psalm 109:7-15)? Wasn't Judas remorseful over what he had done?

 

"3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that." (Matthew 27:3-4)

[It is worth noting that the word "repented" in verse 3 is a slight mistranslation of the Greek verb metamelomai, which is different from the verb metanoeo, which is the verb generally translated as "repent"; metanoeo is used 36 times in 32 New Testament verses, in verses such as Acts 2:38, Matthew 3:2, and Luke 17:3. Therefore, metamelomai does not refer to the repentance that leads to forgiveness. As shown by the 8 times and 5 verses where it is used (Matthew 21:29, 21:32, 27:3; 2 Corinthians 7:8; and Hebrews 7:21), metamelomai actually has the connotation of someone who changes his mind about a decision, as when someone first decides to go somewhere and then decides not to go; by contrast, metanoeo has the connotation of a change in one's outlook, a change in the way one judges and perceives the world.]

 

Even though remorse and repentance are not synonyms, one could at least argue that Judas did not act like a "defiant sinner" with absolutely no shame over what he had done. If it was so important for God to teach us forgiveness without repentance, wouldn't Judas Iscariot have been the perfect opportunity to teach us unconditional love and forgiveness? Matriarchals may argue that Judas' sin was so grave that he did not deserve forgiveness. Why? Because he betrayed the Son of God. The question would then become: If Judas had betrayed a "regular" son of God (i.e. a "brother in Christ") instead of the son of God, would he then deserve forgiveness without repentance? If so, we would establish a dangerous precedent, for we would be saying that God is OK with regular, faithful sons and daughters of His being betrayed but not OK with Jesus being betrayed. The "we-are-the-apple-of-His-eye" verse that matriarchals are so inclined to quote would then turn meaningless, because we would not be as "important" to Him as many passages taught in Church make us out to be. Some might be foolish enough to argue that the difference with Judas is that he betrayed someone who never sinned, which would be different from betraying sinners such as ourselves, but that would mean that God would still be holding our former sins against us. Wasn't He supposed to have forgiven and forgotten, with no strings (of repentance or any other type) attached?

 

A third example to consider would be the widow in the parable of Luke 18:1-8:

 

"1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. 4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? 8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:1-8)

 

An injustice had been done to her, and she was seeking "vengeance" (v3), i.e. justice. If God is calling us to forgive without repentance, why didn't Jesus criticise the widow's "vengeful" behaviour? Why didn't He use the parable as an opportunity to teach us to let go of past hurts and to forgive and forget? Why didn't He say that we enslave ourselves when we don't let go of the past? Why didn't He espouse the "freedom" that comes with unconditional forgiveness, the "freedom" that the matriarchal Church is so bent on preaching? Instead of doing any of this, Yeshua praised the widow's persistence and used it as an example of faith that is worthy of praise in God's eyes.

 

As you may have noticed, all the examples above are from the "New Testament". This was to emphasise that God's repentance requirement cannot be limited to the "meanie", ruthless God of the "Old Testament". Since the schizophrenic "that-was-in-the-Old-Testament-times" excuse is off the table, we can now refer to an example from the "Old Testament" to certify even further God's views on forgiveness. When Amalek attacked Israel from behind in the desert, God told Israel never to forget what Amalek had done (Exodus 17:8-16, Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Centuries later, during the times of Saul, God told Saul out of nowhere to obliterate Amalek and leave no man, woman, child, or animal alive (1 Samuel 15:1-3). If God is all about forgiveness, even without repentance, why did God continue to hold a centuries-old grudge against Amalek, and why was He teaching Israel to hold that grudge as well? When Saul failed to kill off all the Amalekites, God did not tell Samuel to go to Saul and praise him for his act of mercy and forgiveness. Instead, Saul's mercy earned him rejection from God, to the point that the kingship was stripped from him on that very day (1 Samuel 15:28, 1 Samuel 28:18).

 

Conclusion

As can be seen from all of the above, all of the verses listed in the question are surrounded by verses that directly contradict the notion that we are called to forgive people who do not repent. Therefore, it is safe to say that, when Yeshua spoke out all of those verses, He had already established a context within which his words on forgiveness would not be misconstrued, at least by those willing to hear the "male" voice of the Spirit. Those who are ruled by the "female" voice of the soul will always ignore the surrounding verses, pull them completely out of context, and adjust them to their a priori understanding of forgiveness, turning them into proof to their souls that their lovey-dovey, feel-good understanding of forgiveness is completely Scriptural.

 

"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Matthew 7:6)