The scriptures are plain. How could Christians misunderstand? When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, he used a phrase that not only taught them how but taught them a deeper level of understanding of points in that prayer. One such phrase was: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Then he went on to say, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). God made the promise that if we do not forgive men for what they do against us, he will not forgive us.
Problem: Jesus commands us to forgive men but some leaders in the church reject Jesus’ command. They add “if they repent” to the command. Then they feel justified not to forgive anyone except those who first come to them to repent.
Second Problem: The same brethren believe that God will not forgive the unbeliever until he is baptized and therefore we must follow God’s example. They feel justified in never forgiving any unbeliever. Jesus warned us that if we don’t forgive men their trespasses, he will not forgive ours. If these leaders are correct in their doctrine, they cause no harm at all; however, if God requires us to forgive all men their trespasses before ours are forgiven, then these leaders are causing many souls to go to hell.
In Matthew 6:14-15, these leaders literally rewrite the scriptures to read:
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our brethren who are our debtors if they repent first.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
14 For if ye forgive men (our brethren) their trespasses (if they repent), your heavenly Father will also forgive you if you repent.
15 But if ye forgive not men (your brethren) their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
No man is justified to change the commands of God as you see in the altered passage above. We must forgive men, not just our brethren, and there is no indication they have to have stopped doing what they do.
Argument: “God does forgive unbelievers before they are baptized? Am I greater than God? Can I forgive a man for anything before he is baptized?” In that position, they feel justified in not forgiving unbelievers at any time.
Forgiveness in the New Testament is of several different kinds:
- Broadly speaking, forgiveness can be divided into two major kinds:
- Man’s forgiveness can be divided into two major kinds:
- The world
If we mix the categories, confusion and disobedience will result. Those who do not recognize the different kinds of forgiveness cannot understand the truth. Those who refuse to recognize a difference between man’s and God’s forgiveness cannot understand the truth. God writes that sin on his record. I can forgive the sin that is on my record, but I cannot forgive the sin that is in God’s record. Jesus gave that authority to forgive sins on behalf of God only to the apostles (John 20:23).
Some are willingly blind due to their doctrine of grace only, which forbids any differences of degrees of reward in heaven. Understanding the differences of reward in heaven and hell is absolutely necessary to understanding the Lord’s commands about forgiveness. If there are no differences of reward in heaven or punishment in hell, then only God’s forgiveness has any weight at all. Naturally, the first step in understanding forgiveness is understanding that there are differences of reward in heaven and in hell.
There is a very great difference between forgiving believers and forgiving unbelievers. If we can’t see the difference between forgiving believers and forgiving unbelievers, we cannot understand God’s teaching on forgiveness. Is it possible to take the commands to forgive God’s children and apply them to the unbeliever? We cannot hold a grudge against anyone in the world, but we should forgive because the world sins through ignorance.
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ (Ephesians 4:17-20).
Jesus asked the Father to forgive while they were in the process of trying to kill him. They were ignorant of the enormity of their sin if nothing else. “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots” (Luke 23:34). The world will give answer for their sin, but they are ignorant of much of what they do.
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:12-13).
Through Mark, we understand the same doctrine in slightly different words.
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Mark 11:25-26).
Stephen followed the steps of Christ; he forgave the Jews while they were killing him.
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:59-60).
There are different commands when it comes to brethren.
Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother (Matthew 12:47-50).
Note: Jesus gives the real definition of a brother. In our context, it would include all members of the church who have obeyed the first principles. Even if a man is called a brother (but is not genuinely) he is included in the commands for brethren
“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
We must forgive all brethren who even say the words ‘I repent.’ Even 7 times in one day he must be forgiven.
Take heed to yourselves: 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).
We have a responsibility to each brother who sins against us.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matthew 18:15-17).
It is not possible to handle non-members according to Matthew 18:15-17. You can go to the non-member, but if he doesn’t hear the second person (witness) there is no way he is going to go before the church. He is already an unbeliever and treated like a publican and a sinner. What difference would the third step make? It would make no sense at all to apply that command to non-members.
Luke 17:3-4 deals with brethren, not non-members. The brother is obligated to listen on pain of being put out of fellowship. The non-member is not in fellowship and can’t be put out of it.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 commands us not to have fellowship with the brother who is a busybody and won’t work. He is to be admonished first and then marked. We are not (or should not be) in fellowship with the non-members (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Thus there is also no thought of applying 2 Thessalonians 3:6 to non-members. Matthew 5:44 deals with both members and non-members. Our work with any enemy is to return good for his evil, give him water and feed him if he is hungry. Romans 12:19-21 gives the same direction. Matthew 18:21-22 tells us there is no limit to the number of times we are to forgive a brother.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22). Immediately after this statement, Jesus gives a parable showing that we must genuinely forgive from the heart.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (Matthew 18:23-35).
Note also – even the past sins that had been forgiven were re-instated in full.
When there is even an indication the brother has repented, we must forgive. Note: when we forgive, we re-establish our love for that person.
For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you. But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him (2 Corinthians 2:4-8).
There are more ways to show we have repented than by words.
But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you (Matthew 21:28-31).
Some make up their own rules and demand the brother use the word “repent.” We must love as brethren and discern when a brother stops his sin. When we forgive, our hearts need to be tender toward our forgiven brother.
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Jesus forgives when we confess and ask forgiveness, and we should do the same.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye (Colossians 3:12-13).
If a brother has sinned, but not against us, it is a different situation.
If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it (1 John 5:16).
We can persuade the Father to give life to all of our brethren that sin, except those who sin unto death. If a brother has not sinned against us, and there is nothing to forgive. We cannot forgive in God’s place.
We should have compassion on the brethren who are overtaken in sin. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Then the question comes: Who are those who are ‘spiritual?’ “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). At least the spiritual person is not a baby and blind to the inner man. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). The spiritual person must be able to restore a brother and not drive him further away.
The Lord has promised that he will forgive our sins if we confess our sins to him—not to a prayer partner/mentor or friend, but to God himself. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Note: the Lord has promised both to forgive and to heal the heart.
The Lord listens to our prayers for each other. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). Note: the purpose of this prayer is to heal the heart, not just to forgive. Of course there is one sin that will not be forgiven in this age or in the age to come.
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come (Matthew 12:31-32).
IF the question is asked about a sin never being forgiven in this verse, the following notation may be helpful: “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:29-30). Note: verse 29 ‘hath never forgiveness’ is literally ‘has no forgiveness into the age.’
Even in the OT period the Lord showed mercy to those who confessed sin. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). This is the way that David was forgiven of his sins.
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest (Psalm 51:1-4).
THERE WAS FORGIVENESS UNDER THE OLD LAW.
To understand the full context, read carefully Numbers 14:1-20. Moses asked the Lord to pardon the Israelites, and God pardoned them.
And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now. And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word (Numbers 14:17-20).
The word “pardon” is the Hebrew word calch – 5545, and almost always translated to forgive. There is no indication the Israelites had repented when Moses prayed for them. “And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!” (Numbers 14:2). Nevertheless, God forgave Israel “according to (Moses) word.”
The promise of God is that if we will pray for a brother God will give him life. “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16). Thus, we should be encouraged to pray for each other to give each other life. The lord plainly stated that he forgave Moses, Aaron, and Samuel.
Exalt ye the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy. Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name; they called upon the LORD, and he answered them. He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar: they kept his testimonies, and the ordinance that he gave them. Thou answeredst them, O LORD our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions (Psalms 99:5-8).
Forgiveness is not necessarily the end of the matter; God took vengeance on Moses, Aaron and David. Even though he was forgiven, Moses could not go into the Promised Land. David’s child died, one of his own house committed adultery with his wives, and he had war till the day of his death.
Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die (2 Samuel 12:9-13).
The scapegoat actually took the people’s sins from them. “But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:10). The Lord had provided a way even under the OT law to have sins taken away.
And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness (Leviticus 16:20-22).
Hezekiah asked God to pardon the Israelites, and God heard his prayer.
For a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good LORD pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary. And the LORD hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people (2 Chronicles 30:18-20).
God put away David’s sin. “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). God forgave the iniquity of David’s sin. “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Psalms 32:5).
God forgave Israel’s sin. “But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath” (Psalms 78:38). It is true that animal sacrifice could not forgive sin, but God could. Before the cross God forgave the Israelites many times in the Old Testament and took their sins and put them on the scapegoat every year. In this case, where the sins that were put on the head of the goat washed away? What happened after the goat died who had their sins on his head? The sins that were taken away still existed. They were still on God’s record. Nevertheless he said: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us (Psalms 103:12).” The sins were taken from the Israelites, but they were still on God’s record.
After the cross the Law of Moses no longer could take away sins. About 25 years after the cross he said “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). It is true that Jesus blood forgave all sin that will be forgiven, past, present and future. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Romans 3:25). Nevertheless, God did forgive sins before the cross.
It is true that we are commanded to follow God as dear children and we should. We can have all of the parts of his love. Some argue that God does not forgive sins unless someone repents including the unbeliever, and therefore we are justified when we do not forgive the unbeliever until he repents. We need to understand that there are things that God is justified in doing that we cannot do. (For example he commands man to get rid of all anger (Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8), but because God is God and not man, He is justified in doing what he commands us not to do). We are not in the same position that God is. God as judge of all the earth, and we are not. God is the creator and owns all things, but we do not. The owner has privileges that his created man does not have. We can follow God as dear children by gaining all of the different parts of his love.
I don’t see a contrast but I see a progression. Anger is not a sin (Mark 3:5), but when we get angry, we need to be careful not to deal in that anger so that we do sin. Though anger is not a sin, the Lord commands us to put it off (Ephesians 4:31).
The point that needs to be made is this: God can command men to put off all anger, but He Himself does not put off anger (Rom. 1:18). He is justified in His anger because he is God. Men must give account to God, not to each other. Man is not justified in his anger, for he is not God. God can command us to do something He does not do, for we are men, not gods. For example, He can kill and make alive (1 Samuel 2:6-8), but I am not justified in killing anyone.
We are NOT to forgive men their trespasses on the same condition that God forgives us ours. We must forgive all men their trespasses, with the exception of a “brother” who sins against us but refuses to repent. Even if I forgive an unbeliever for sinning against me, that does not say that God forgives that same unbeliever for the same sin. If someone sins against me, that sin is on the record I keep. If someone sins against me, he has disobeyed the command of God which God counts as sin. God writes that sin on his record. I can forgive the sin that is on my record, but I cannot forgive the sin that is in God’s record. Jesus gave that authority to forgive sins on behalf of God only to the apostles (John 20:23). If I forgive someone for what they have done against me, am I forgiving sin on God’s behalf? The answer is no. No man today is allowed to forgive in God’s place. Either God forgives the man or he is not forgiven. The man sins, that sin is written in God’s record. If he sins against me, that sin is written in God’s record but it is also on my record. That is the only sin that I am justified to forgive.
You do not have to harbor ill will but if one has sinned against you, you do a GOOD service to the one in the wrong by forgiving them EVEN though God gives no forgiveness.
Sin is transgression against God’s law. The only way a man can sin against me is if he disobeys one of God’s commands. God does not give a man a right to put that sin on his own record and leave it there. When God commands us to take that sin off of our record, that command is between God and us. Where does God give any man the right to hold a grudge against any other man for disobeying a command the man did not give. God gives the laws, and sin is breaking God’s laws, not mine.