by Bryan Matthew Dockens
I sincerely desire the forgiveness of those who’ve done me wrong. Like Stephen (Acts 7:60), and Christ before him (Luke 23:34), I pray that God will forgive those who have harmed me. I do not forgive them, though, unless and until they repent. This does not make me sinfully “unforgiving” (Romans 1:31; II Timothy 3:3), however, as it is repentance on which forgiveness depends.
I am under command to withhold forgiveness in the absence of repentance. Jesus taught, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). “If” is a small word that carries a lot of weight. “If” my brother has not sinned, I have no business rebuking him; and “if” my brother has not repented, I have no business forgiving him.
I am not better than God. Forgiveness by the Almighty toward men is predicated on repentance by men. When He planned Judah’s destruction, God said, “… everyone may turn from his evil way, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:3). That prerequisite has never been lifted; even now we know “If we confess ours sins, He is faithful and just to forgive” (I John 1:9). The “if” remains. Since the Lord is “good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy” (Psalm 86:5), no man can surpass his mercifulness. So, how dare any man forgive where He will not?
I must not lead the wayward into a false sense of security. If I forgive where God has not, that will soothe the consciences of the guilty, letting them think the matter is resolved when it is not. “Do not be deceived” (Galatians 6:7).