God’s love is infinite (Psalm 103:11). The Old Testament teaches about God’s great goodness and mercy (Exodus 34:6,7). And the New Testament, affirms that same truth (1 John 4:9-10). God’s graciousness has been extended to all sinners in Christ (Romans 5:8). “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” (John 3:16). And the Lord desires all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9).
But God’s forgiveness is not extended to all irrespective of their will, as His love is. It only benefits those that seek it with repentance. “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” (Psalm 86:5). Thus, it is conditional (Acts 8:22; 3:19). Those that reject God’s love can’t receive His forgiveness (Joshua 24:19–20). Thus, repentance is a prerequisite for obtaining His forgiveness (Jeremiah 36:3; Psalm 51:3).
God’s forgiveness is clearly illustrated in the story of the sinful woman that washed Jesus’ feet in gratitude for granting her His forgiveness after repentance (Luke 7:40–50). Likewise, Paul preached the call to repentance to accept God’s forgiveness (Acts 26:20). And Peter in his teachings tied repentance with forgiveness (Acts 2:38; 5:31; 8:22).
We are to imitate Jesus Christ and to “follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). We are called to treat our fellow men as He treats them (Colossians 3:13). The Scriptures teach to forgive “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Jesus taught, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44–45 also Luke 6:35).
But do we forgive those that don’t ask for our forgiveness? Jesus answered this question clearly when he said, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:3–4).
The Savior taught clearly that we need to lovingly rebuke the sinner that he may see his sin. Then, the sinner needs to “repent” to receive our forgiveness. Thus, human forgiveness, is conditional, just as the divine forgiveness is (2 Peter 3:9).
Jesus stressed the need to reconciliation before worship. He taught, “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
But if the erring one, at this point, refuses to be reconciled, the Christian should not harbor hate or resentment to him. And the Christian should pray for his erring brother that he may be convicted to repent. Jesus urged the believers saying, “pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27). The goal of faith for Christians is the salvation of souls (1 Peter 1:9).
Biblical forgiveness is not given arbitrarily but is conditioned on the repentance of the sinner. This forgiveness leads to both reconciliation and spiritual healing. As the offended seeks reconciliation and gently rebukes his brother, the offender sees that his sin has not been bypassed, but rather has been condemned. Then, he gets the chance to repent to receive both the forgiveness of God and man. By this action, he avoids God’s final judgment (1 Corinthians 11:31–32). This process leads to holiness, restoration, and peace among God’s children.
In His service,