“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.  Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Luke 17:3-4


I wrote on this topic of forgiveness not long ago, but found that my take on it fell far short of what it should have been. I hope you will find the following thoughts more helpful. It’s important to have correct understanding about this, because not doing so can mean everything in where you stand with God.

There are two opposing views on forgiveness: Conditional and unconditional. Some congregations are being taught that Christ’s forgiveness is unconditional. It’s a view I strongly oppose. It’s a view that I believe could cause a lot of harm.

The biblical principle of forgiveness is that we are to forgive others as God forgave us (Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32)

But is that saying that everyone should be forgiven unconditionally as some claim it does?

The Bible doesn’t teach that when Jesus died for us and when we pray a prayer for forgiveness, that we can simply carry on with our life, wrong-doings automatically forgiven. No need to repent or feel remorse. There is no true relationship with God or man without repentance.

A congregation hearing a message of unconditional forgiveness by God might be happy. Glad to have a pastor who teaches such a comforting and encouraging sermon. It gives them what they want to hear.

But this is not God’s message!

In his Word, God tells us the opposite. In the Scripture at the top, as well as many others, God tells us that we must repent when we knowingly do wrong. If we’re not aware, we should do so when someone points it out to us. We must indicate that we’ll try to change our ways. We’re always held accountable to God for the wrong we do.

We must express remorse—not only to God, but also to those we hurt.

King David is a good example. After the prophet Nathan confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba, he cried out: Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. … A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. (Psalm 51:1,3) With a “broken and contrite heart” he repents.

You may say, “But in David’s time, Jesus had not yet died for our sins.” That’s true. And yet, in our forgiveness we are still called to be broken over the wrongs we do. How can we not feel bad about ourselves when we hurt others? We are called to lay our sins at the foot of the cross.

Have those who blindly adopt the belief of unconditional forgiveness, ever considered what following such a belief could mean? These are some possible scenarios I’ve come up with:

  • A sinner could do wrong and not worry about the consequences.
  • An offender is more liable to repeat the wrong-doing.
  • It would not encourage him to remember that he is a sinner.
  • It’s cheap grace.
  • He would not need to feel guilt.
  • The offender would not have to worry about the pain his actions caused.
  • He would likely feel no need to compensate for hurt caused.
  • He would feel no responsibility to bring peace to a situation through reconciliation.
  • Part of repentance is to learn about the pain caused and acknowledge it. Will that, too, be deemed unnecessary?

This leads me to thinking: If unconditional forgiveness is truly what Jesus intended, why is it so painful when a hurt person’s well-meaning offer to forgive is refused by an offender? Why is it so hard to be ignored by an offender, with remorse not shown, as though nothing happened? Feeling bad about what we’ve done to another reveals a caring heart, a heart of love. Expressions of remorse brings peace and healing to the victim, and to the offender as well.

It seems to me that unconditional forgiveness is only good for the wrong-doer. It does nothing for those he wrongs and leaves to suffer.