The way to know you had fully forgiven someone was that you no longer felt they owed you anything.
~Jo Saxton, as quoted by Katdish
When I read this on Katdish’s blog the other day, it got me thinking. Sometimes you just feel like someone owes you an apology, right? I mean, if nothing else, just say you’re sorry.
But sometimes you don’t get that. Sometimes people just don’t feel like they did anything wrong, or they feel justified in what they did, or for some other reason they simply are not going to apologize to you. What then?
Well, holding out for that is detrimental to you. It can easily turn into bitterness, which I discussed here. Further, doesn’t it keep you from forgiving, which will put your relationship with God in peril? I discussed that here–remember asking God to forgive those who sin against you in the same way that you have forgiven others? Danger!
All of this reminded me of a sermon I listened to or read (I don’t remember which) a few years back. What I remember learning, to my surprise, is that you can’t really forgive someone who is unrepentant–at least not fully.
Here’s Piper (from the sermon linked above):
…I am not sure that in the Bible the term forgiveness is ever applied to an unrepentant person. Jesus said in Luke 17:3–4, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” So there’s a sense in which full forgiveness is only possible in response to repentance.
Think about it: Does God forgive people who do not repent? No. It’s impossible. If you receive forgiveness from God, then that also means you receive the richness of His mercy and enjoy eternity in relationship with Him because you’ve been pardoned from sin. The Bible teaches that you must repent and follow Jesus for that to happen. So if God does not forgive unrepentant people, then how can we?
The difference here is having a forgiving spirit. I think that Piper gives a very helpful and Biblical “checklist” for your heart related to forgiveness. Forgiveness–and I would venture a forgiving spirit–looks like this:
- Resist thoughts of revenge: Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
- Don’t seek to do them mischief: 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil.
- Wish well to them: Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you.”
- Grieve at their calamities: Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
- Pray for them: Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
- Seek reconciliation with them: Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
- Be always willing to come to their relief: Exodus 23:4, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.”
You can do all of those things without someone repenting. Can you achieve full reconciliation and the renewal of a relationship without the other person repenting? I don’t see how. But, just like God does with every human, you can be willing and ready to meet their needs, to love them, and to forgive them. And you can begin letting go of your own hurt, pride, and bitterness and pray for a forgiving spirit in the meantime.
Not easy, but worth it.