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Forgiveness Without Repentance?


Do we, as Christians, have the right to forgive someone who does not repent?

Is forgiving an unrepentant person doing something more than God will do?


  1. First, a definition of “forgive”
    1. The Greek word is aphiemi - Literally:  to send away, to give up, keep no longer - Thayer.
    2. To give up resentment against or the desire to punish; stop being angry with; pardon – Webster
  2. Can we forgive those who have not asked for it, or repented?
    1. It is true that God requires repentance before forgiveness - Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30.
    2. But we are not God; God is the only true Judge - James 4:11-12.
    3. God is perfect, He knows the hearts of men; we are prone to misread and misjudge. Ultimately it is God who forgives the guilt of sin; we can only give up grudges. Harbouring grudges hurts ourselves, making us embittered (“judges with grudges”).
  3. We are to forgive as we pray, not necessarily wait until one repents - Mark 11:25-26.
    1. Jesus and Stephen forgave others who had yet to repent - Luke 23:34; Act 7:60.
    2. Very much aware of my own imperfections, I prefer to err on the side of being too forgiving.
  4. But Luke 17:3-4 seems very straight forward - rebuke, IF they repent, forgive.
  5. I think we should make a distinction between personal forgiveness and divine forgiveness.
    1. God clearly requires repentance before forgiveness. (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30)
    2. Perhaps we are to forgive only in the sense of “giving up resentment against; having no desire to punish; stop being angry with”, not in any way that actually removes the guilt of sin.
    3. Thus I am helped in understanding why Jesus could ask God to forgive those who were sinning by killing the Son of God, after teaching that those who did not repent would perish (Luke 17:3-4).
    4. It should be noted that John specifically forbids us from asking forgiveness for those who commit a sin (leading) to death (1 John 5:16).
    5. Because of His divine nature He could ask for compassion for the actions of the ignorant.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbour? (James 4:11-12)

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26)

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.” (1 John 5:16)

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