Biblical forgiveness is one of the principles that is most often incorrectly taught to followers of Jesus Christ. Some professing “Christians” believe that because they once said a prayer asking Jesus to be their Lord and Savior that all of their past, present and future sins are automatically forgiven by Almighty God. They do not believe that they will be held accountable for any sins and that there is no need for them to repent. That line of thinking only leads to rampant sin in the life of a person who is not a genuine Christian. We must understand that God’s forgiveness requires us to sincerely repent by changing our ungodly behavior when we sin. If we refuse to repent, Jesus Christ is not our Lord.
Forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, means that we are given the opportunity to spend eternity with Almighty God in Heaven. John 3:16-21 state that Jesus came to provide for our salvation. The verses also describe the difference between those practicing evil who are condemned and people who are honoring God. People who willfully continue their evil, sinful behavior, in spite of claiming to be Christians, are not sincerely following Jesus, and they will not go to Heaven.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.
John 3:16-21 (NKJV)
God’s forgiveness is not unconditional. God expects us to obey Him. When we disobey the Lord, we will suffer the consequences. Deuteronomy 28 clearly describes the blessings that we will receive for obeying God and also some of the results if we choose to disobey Him. In Genesis 19:15-26, Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt because she disobeyed the Lord and looked back after being told not to do so. The cost of her disobedience was immediate death.
My Scriptural understanding of our responsibility to forgive others has changed greatly during the past several decades. I was taught repeatedly, and as a result I once believed, that we are supposed to forgive everyone regardless of what they did, whether they were a genuine follower of Jesus Christ or not, and whether or not they were sorry and repentant. I no longer believe that based on several Scriptures, many of which are Jesus’ own words. According to Luke 17:3, Jesus stated that repentance is a condition required for us to forgive a brother—a fellow Christian.
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
Luke 17:3 (NKJV)
True Christians will obey the Lord and if they occasionally sin, they will repent and change their behavior. They will express genuine remorse. However, there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing who are pretending to be followers of Jesus Christ, but do not obey Him and do not repent for their sins. We can know the difference based on a person’s actions and sincere sorrow. John 3:36 clearly warns us that the wrath of God remains on those who do not obey the Lord.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
John 3:36 (ESV)
Sincere followers of Jesus Christ should always be willing to forgive others when it is appropriate to do so. Our Most High God does not forgive everyone, but He is ready and willing to forgive us when we are truly sorry for our sins and change our behavior—repent—to live according to His Word. God’s forgiveness can only be received through the birth, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. People who refuse to genuinely accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, and obey God’s commandments and directions, will not spend eternity with Him in Heaven.
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.
Psalm 86:5 (NKJV)
However, the Lord Jesus said, in Matthew 12:31-32, that there is a sin that God will not forgive. Blasphemy—the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence—against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven by God. These words from Jesus show that our Most High God considers that to be unforgivable!
“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Matthew 12:31-32 (NKJV)
In Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive the Holy Spirit and lied to Peter about the amount of money they had received when they sold a possession. They kept back a portion of the proceeds from the sale. That was not the problem. Their sin was that they lied about it. They were both guilty of deception and lying. Ananias and Sapphira were given the opportunity to repent and tell the truth, but they did not do so. They died as a result. That may seem like a harsh consequence for lying, but it is one example of believers receiving God’s judgment for not repenting for their sin.
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
Acts 5:3-4 (NKJV)
Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much.”
Acts 5:7-8 (NKJV)
In addition, when we have sinned and have not asked God to forgive us, and have not repented for our sins, it always blocks our relationships with Him. He will not hear our prayers if we have known sins on our accounts.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.
Isaiah 59:2 (NKJV)
And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV)
God does expect us to forgive as we have been forgiven in Christ. After we make a sincere profession of faith in Jesus, ask God for forgiveness for our sins, and repent, God forgives us. The condition of repentance is often ignored by those who want us to forgive them, but do not want to change their behavior. At times, people may forgive someone who is not repentant because they do not want to lose that relationship. However, that is a very selfish reason to forgive and it allows the offender to continue the ungodly behavior without consequences. That is not in agreement with God’s character and Word. In this life or after they die, our Most High God always carries out His judgment against those who do not repent.
This is a powerful quote from John Hagee: “Granting forgiveness without demanding a change in conduct (behavior) makes the grace of God an accomplice to evil.” Just think about that statement. Ungodly behavior is sin and evil. If we grant forgiveness without requiring the person to repent and change their behavior, we are making the grace of God a partner with that evil. Godly sorrow and repentance are not optional in order to receive God’s forgiveness, and it should be a requirement for us to forgive others.
Why would we think that we should forgive unrepentant rapists, pedophiles, murderers, and other evil people, including pseudo “Christians,” when Almighty God does not forgive such people? Those who tell abuse victims/survivors to forgive an unrepentant, evil perpetrator are asking them to do something that our Most High God does not do! One woman to whom I ministered told me that she would never forgive the person who murdered her daughter. Not only was the killer unrepentant, but he denied that he had committed the crime even though all the evidence proved he had done it. Based on God’s Word about forgiveness, I do not believe that the Lord expected that heartbroken lady to forgive the unrepentant murderer of her precious daughter.
Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.
Acts 8:22 (NKJV)
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
2 Corinthians 7:10 (NKJV)
Without faith in the One True God and His Son, Jesus Christ, a person cannot truly forgive. The love of God makes it possible for us to genuinely forgive when it is appropriate. A desire to obey and please the Lord is absent without that faith. A remorseless wrongdoer cannot benefit from God’s forgiveness. The fact that God forgives us based on our acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice and our repentance is the only reason that we have hope and the assurance that we will spend eternity with the Lord in Heaven. Obeying God and forgiving—when it is appropriate—helps to keep our relationships with the Lord strong.
Also, we cannot base whether or not we have truly forgiven someone on our feelings. We may still feel emotional pain when we think about the person or situation. Many years ago, the life and career of a man I knew was seriously damaged and almost destroyed as a result of the wicked actions and lies of several people. He was carrying an indescribable amount of pain and trauma. Hoping to reduce his suffering, that Christian man eventually made the conscious decision to forgive the people involved, but he still felt lots of bitterness and anger regarding the injustice that had been done to him. The bitterness and anger were attached to the emotional pain and trauma that he had suffered, which had not been released or healed. If we forgive someone who is truly sorry and repentant, we may not always feel like we have done so until Jesus releases the pain and trauma and heals our broken hearts.
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
Luke 4:18 (NKJV)
Our Most High God gives everyone the opportunity to receive forgiveness for sins, true freedom, and healing through His Son, Jesus Christ. Whether or not we are forgiven by God depends on our sincere acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Our obedience to God and His Word, and our repentance when we sin, prove that our relationships with Him and Jesus are genuine. Almighty God will never force anyone to repent, but thank God that He gives us the opportunity to do so! Otherwise, we would all be doomed to an eternity in Hell.