FORGIVENESS – Obligated or Obliged?


FORGIVENESS – Obligated or Obliged?

James C. Guy

I have often been asked if God requires forgiveness for those who do not repent or who have not asked for forgiveness. Many struggle with this concerning people who have wronged or hurt them in some way. Some things that people have done to others are so hurtful and hideous that it often leads us to say, “I’ll never forgive them for that,” or “That is just unforgivable.” But, the truth is EVERYTHING is forgivable. If Jesus, the Son of God, can say, “Father forgive them....” for killing Him, then certainly nothing anyone does to us can be unforgivable.

The question is, though, are we obligated to forgive in cases such as those where there is no repentance? Not only must we ask the question, “must we” but also “will we” if we determine we should forgive.

What Is Forgiveness?

First, we need to consider that forgiveness essentially comes in two ‘packages.’ (1) One is the actual forgiveness that a person receives. This is the forgiveness that we all can receive from God when and only when we come to Him on His terms and are forgiven in the blood of Christ. (2) The other is what is sometimes called, “interpersonal forgiveness.” That is, the forgiveness that we offer in the sense that we no longer harbor ill-will or vengeful feelings toward someone that has wronged us. The first one is really up to God. The second is the one we struggle with.

Second, we need to consider who forgiveness comes from. God may forgive someone that we are unwilling to forgive. Or, we may forgive someone that God has not forgiven.

Third, (and this is a big one), forgiving does not equal excusing. Because a person is forgiven in either the actual sense, or on the interpersonal sense, does not excuse what was done. Actual forgiveness does mean that person is no longer accountable for what he has done, but it does not mean that there will not still be consequences remaining.
Hebrews 8:12 “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

II Samuel 12:13-14 “Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord.'' And Nathan said to David, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.”

There was a woman who was married for many years to her high school sweetheart. Later in life, he left her to be with her best friend. She felt she had forgiven him, but had not forgiven her friend for “taking” her husband. After some study, prayer, and time, she was finally able to forgive her friend in her mind and to put it behind her as best she could. Yet, the couple continued to live in adultery. She forgave the friend for sinning against her, but undoubtedly God had not forgiven the friend since she continued to live in adultery with the woman’s ex-husband. She did not and could not forgive her friend for the unrepented of sin, but she did come to forgive her for what she had done to her. She forgave her on an “interpersonal” level. That is, between her and the woman. She did not excuse or condone the sin the woman had committed and was still committing by forgiving her in this way. NEITHER was the friendship between the two women restored. Which is to be expected.

Things To Consider About “Interpersonal Forgiveness”

First, it does the forgiver more good than the forgiven. When we refuse to forgive someone on an interpersonal level, we are essentially allowing that person to harm us twice. This is because it tears us up emotionally, spiritually, and in other ways when we harbor ill-will, hatred, and such feelings toward others. That is in addition to what the person has already done to us.

Jesus on the cross is the perfect example of this type of forgiveness. While He certainly had to power to forgive sins by simply speaking them forgiven (Matthew 9:2-6), His statement on the cross is an example of interpersonal forgiveness. When He said, “Father forgive them....” He probably wasn’t forgiving them in the actual sense because they were still unrepentant. But, He did say He forgave them. Perhaps this was in the “interpersonal sense.” He was saying, “I forgive you,” though they did not have actual forgiveness in their sinful state.

That is what we do when we forgive others in this way. It may seem like a selfish reason to forgive, but it is not selfish, even though is it for ourselves and our own well-being. We are not responsible for what others do, but we are responsible for ourselves. When we fail to forgive others from an interpersonal standpoint, we are allowing situations and the one who wronged us to control us from the inside out. Instead, take responsibility for your own life and let God work with you and in you to help you. It will do wonders for you, even if it does nothing for the other person.

Second, we must remember that interpersonal forgiveness does not mean that we accept the sin, nor the sinner as they are. We are not pardoning, excusing, or even being understanding of what they have done. Without actual forgiveness, we are simply saying, “I forgive you, but I don’t excuse you.” Until the person repents, he can not have the actual forgiveness from us nor from God.

Third, if either interpersonal forgiveness alone, or even both actual and interpersonal forgiveness take place, this does not mean the relationship must be restored. If a friend sins against another friend, and later receives forgiveness, that does not mean the friendship must also be restored. Ideally it will be, but not necessarily. Nor are we obligated to restore the original relationship even if we could. This is particularly common in marital relationships. One spouse may be unfaithful to the other, and divorce takes place. Later, forgiveness may take place in both the actual and interpersonal sense, but that does not require that the marriage be restored. Things do not always go back “as they were” which is one reason we must be careful not to sin against others. We may sin against someone in haste, but the consequences may be there the rest of our lives. Consider the song, “Angry Words.....”:
“Angry words! O, let them never from my tongue unbridled slip; May the heart’s best impulse ever check them ere they soil the lip. Love is much too pure and holy, Friendship is too sacred far, For a moment’s reckless folly Thus to desolate and mar. Angry words are lightly spoken, Bitterest thoughts are rashly stirred, Brightest links of life are broken By a single angry word.”

Fourth, forgiveness is not easy. We do not forgive simply because someone tells us we should. Not even because God tells us we should. It is a struggle to forgive in many cases. Sometime we do want to, but often times, our worldly minds tell us, “No!”. But remember we “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit,” (Romans 8:1-5ff). Paul also noted that there is that inner struggle within us when making the choice between right and wrong. We want to do right, but often find ourselves doing the wrong. It is indeed a STRUGGLE. But, one we can overcome.
“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do,” (Romans 7:15).

It was not even easy for God to forgive. He had to do what must have been the hardest thing He could have done – Give His Son for the sinner.
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. " (Romans 5:8).

If you struggle with forgiving others, remember that Christ forgave us. In fact, He says that if we are not willing to forgive others, neither is He going to forgive us, but on the flip side, He is willing to forgive us, when we are willing to forgive others.
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses,” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Forgiveness is never easy, but it is always best. If not for those who are forgiven, at least interpersonal forgiveness is for those who forgive. Have the mind of Christ, a mind for forgiveness, and it will be much easier.

**Finally, remember that God wants to forgive you. No matter WHAT anyone may have done to you, it cannot compare with the fact that we have sinned against God. That is because regardless of how vile the sin may be towards us, even the littlest sin toward the Almighty Creator of the Universe pales in comparison. Yet, He stands willing to forgive us, in the ACTUAL sense. If only we will accept it on His terms.

Contact us if we can help you find that forgiveness from God, to help you to forgive others who have wronged you. E-mail THE BIBLE SAYS!

Copyright © 2001-James C. Guy – All rights reserved.
*Permission granted to reprint for church or ministry use in free material (i.e. church bulletins, classes, sermons, etc.)

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