Waiting on Your Offender to Repent?

The Door to Forgive is Christ

Oh my! Today I’m tackling a tough one, people!

Myth #6 – If I forgive, my offender must recognize his/her wrong against me, or it’s invalid or not “total forgiveness.”

There’s a line of thought, especially in some Christian circles, that believes forgiveness is …

“A commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.” -Chris Braun*

In other words this opposing view says that my forgiveness is invalid or incomplete unless my offender repents first.

Much of the biblical support for this idea is found in Luke 17:3-4,

“So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Now, I’m no theologian and I’m not even going to try to “exegete” {Big Seminary Word!} this verse or the many other verses on forgiveness throughout the Bible, but I will say that this verse seems to be “describing” a situation and not necessarily “prescribing” a particular formula to follow like the one below …

Victim’s Pardon + Offender’s Repentance = Total Forgiveness.

I believe that in Luke 17:3-4 Jesus is describing a common situation for all us in which our offender repents …

  • And the obvious Christ-like response is to extend forgiveness.
  • And if our offender doesn’t repent, we are to extend forgiveness.
  • And if our offender sins seven times in a day and comes back repenting seven times—which to me indicates that the offender really isn’t taking his repentance too seriously—we are to extend forgiveness anyway.

I believe that …


I also believe my forgiveness of my offender is complete when I lay my hurt down before God.

  • It may seem like I’m not taking seriously my offender’s sin. Crazy thought, but no, I’m not, and you can read more about that here and here.
  • It may seem like I’m omitting “confronting my offender” with his/her sin. Again, I’m not. You can read more about that here and here.
  • It may seem like I’m not working toward reconciliation with this approach. Not a chance! I’ll be addressing that myth {#7} in two weeks.

 

I am saying that my forgiveness of another is not dependent upon my offender’s repentance.

However, I do believe reconciliation is dependent upon repentance.

 

I also don’t believe God makes our offender’s repentance the doorway we must go through to reach complete forgiveness. 

 

That would mean my ability to obey God is dependent upon the cooperation of another human being!

 

Besides, the idea that I’m to “forgive as Jesus forgives me because God only forgives those who repent is not an equal comparison.

I’m a sinner. You’re a sinner. I have no right to hold on to my resentment. Christ had every right, but He laid down His rights {Philippians 2:6-8}. Come to think of it, He extended forgiveness even before {Rom. 5:8} we repented and not as a contract where, “if we repent, then he’ll die on the cross and forgive us.”

Truthfully, I believe these opposing viewpoints are basically using different terms to describe the same thing. I simply separate forgiveness as a choice that God commands of us from reconciliation, which may not be possible {Rom. 12:18, Luke 12:58}. I think forgiveness is complete without my offender’s repentance.

Is it ideal to forgive and reconcile? Sure, if our offender repents! But then I’m talking about “reconciliation,” which I believe is “built upon” the foundation of forgiveness.

Nope, I’m not going to hesitate to walk through that doorway of God’s grace and extend forgiveness! Not when Jesus is the sinless One who went through that “door” for me. 

 

What do you think? What do you agree with or not? What thoughts do you feel should be added or changed?

 

Tell us about a time when you felt unable to forgive because your offender wouldn’t repent …

 

Click on this link to go to the previous post in the forgiveness series, Does Forgiveness Forfeit Protection?

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Joining with  Works for Me Wednesday, Marriage, Motherhood and MissionsTo Love Honor and Vacuum, Whimsical Wednesday and Wholehearted Wednesday

*Taken from Chris Braun’s Unpacking Forgiveness. I want to add that even though I disagree with this author on this aspect of his interpretation, this is a helpful and biblically-based resource on forgiveness.

 

Other books on forgiveness and reconciliation  that I recommend are:

How to Forgive When You Don’t Feel Like It by June Hunt

Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves by David Stoop

Beyond Boundaries by John Townsend

Forgiving and Reconciling by Everett Worthington

Safe People by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

 

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Comments

  1. We can all think of situations where the chances of those who wounded us coming and asking us for forgiveness were slim to none. But why should I let them call the shots in my life? If I can’t forgive, and release, and wish them well, they hold me hostage. I’ve been there, done that. And by His grace I”m not going to do that again.

    • Oh yes, playing the dreaded waiting game to see if they will recognize the wrong they’ve committed is not the way to go. Don’t want to waste a minute in that desert land! Clinging to His grace right alongside you, Linda! You’re a sweetheart!

    • JosephPote says:

      Yes, Linda! Excellent point. Why would we yield control of our heart to someone who has already proven to be untrustworthy?

  2. bluecottonmemory says:

    You are so right, Beth. I guess I could call it the Year of Forgiveness, over 15 years ago- when He brought me to it. I had to forgive my father – and in the forgiveness I was liberated, made free, healed. It was a gift available to my father, but he never sought it, never came for it and died not knowing that there was a gift available for him that would liberate him, too. It’s like a Christmas gift someone never came by to pick up. The offender only benefits from this gift when it is claimed.

    I love your fighting spirit – tackling the big things for us, inviting us to your place here and sharing. Praying for your heart, your strength and your healing, friend!
    Marleigh

    • I’m so glad to hear a forgiveness success story, Maryleigh. There are so many, like your father, who don’t go through that door or unwrap that gift. What a blessing they miss! Thanks for coming by to encourage me, my friend. I always smile when i see you in the comment section (and link ups too!).

  3. Loved how you mentioned about how repentance is crucial to reconciliation! I think that some people don’t feel like they have to say they’re sorry because they feel it’s YOUR problem. They did something that, admittedly is wrong, but if they don’t admit it’s wrong…….it didn’t happen, right?

    So it’s hard when someone won’t accept responsibility for their actions or, worse, try to blame you for them.

    Then there’s the apology that’s no apology: “I’m sorry BUT…….you made me mad, you started it, you, you, you.

    But forgiveness brings peace and it brings healing. Thanks for hosting today.

    • Yes, so very important. I’ll be fleshing that out a bit more next time I write on the forgiveness series. It’s so very misunderstood and often used, like you’ve pointed out, Nan, as a weapon against us with our offender. I want to write about how to emotionally/spiritually deal with the repeat offender or one who never repents. There’s so much rich ground to be plowed in this series, Nan. And thank you so much for being a cheerleader of me and this series!

  4. Great points and in-depth look at forgiveness once again. As humans we feel justified in wanting the other person to forgive and repent first because most of us believe that we were the one that was done wrong! You clearly state that forgiveness is not dependent on repentance but reconciliation is and as I look into the meaning of these truths my understanding is that as a sinner myself, Jesus asks me to forgive and not just once but as many times as needed. Very thought provoking post and one that gets my brain working to wrap around the wisdom and teaching throughout. Whew! I will be reading this several more times to grasp the full content. Blessings dear Beth!

    • Oh yes, so much to understand and then there’s the integration of it and living out of it, Mary! All of which are HUGE works of God. But I’m praying that God uses these truths to set free those who might be stuck in their forgiveness or are waiting outside that open door of grace. Love ya, sister!

  5. I believe forgiveness is COMPLETE whether or not my offender repents too, it is for my well being as well. Thanks again Beth, this subject is a very important one and you have been dealing with it so graciously. Thanks a lot for hosting us too, have a super blessed day!
    Love

    • We serve such a gracious God who not only gives us commands that deepen our faith but also bless us and improve our lives, Ugochi. Why would we resist a God who is so good and generous like that? I just don’t know! I’m grateful you are not one of those who resist Him but surrender fully and let Him use you mightily, my friend!

  6. JosephPote says:

    Yes! Forgiveness and reconciliation are separate acts. Forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation, but reconciliation is not necessary for forgiveness.
    I love this series you’re doing Beth! And I love how you linked back to prior posts to clarify what you are NOT saying in this post.
    Great job!

  7. busymomof10 says:

    I think you have graciously shared truth with us here! I agree totally with what you have said! I love the quote “Unforgiveness is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die.” That is so true! We think we are Punishing our offender when we hold onto unforgiveness. Actually, we are only hurting ourselves. Bitterness will destroy us from the inside out and also all of those around us. The Scrirptures say that many are defiled through bitterness!! Thank you for this excellent post!

    Blessings,
    Elizabeth
    http://www.yestheyareallours.com

    • Oh, yes, that’s a great quote and picture of what bitterness does to us–leaving our offender completely unscathed! And yes, good point about how it defiles us, Elizabeth. There are so many problems we open ourselves up to when we let that bitterness take root in our hearts. I’m doing some “de-weeding” even as, and especially since, I write this series. It’s been good for me. Thanks for coming by!

    • JosephPote says:

      Yes, I like that quote, too, Elizabeth!
      And that poisonous pill of unforgiveness…it usually has no affect whatsoever on the repeat offender. We’re sitting there hanging onto bitterness while the offender is blithely going on with their life, neither knowing nor caring how we feel about the situation. Or…even taking perverse pleasure in knowing how wounded and bitter they’ve left us.
      Far better to let it go and trust God!

  8. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser says:

    Your analysis is spot-on, Beth. Jesus’ example is the one we are supposed to follow; Paul was explaining a situation (for the benefit of folks who’d only recently believed that an eye for an eye was the way to go).

    Few things are a better illustration of the gap that lies between Christ and me.

    There’s an event from my childhood that I won’t describe in detail here, but that still haunts me, 45 years later – something I was forced to do. I wake in tears, still, some nights.

    The offenders felt they were teaching me something, I suppose, and never thought of repenting.

    I don’t think I could have forgiven them even if they HAD repented. And if they could come from beyond the grave, hat in hand, asking for forgiveness?

    I don’t think I could. There are some things time can never heal, and in this I have to throw myself, and my unforgiveness, on God’s mercy.

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2014/03/forgiving-your-mate.html

    • I’ve had others who’ve shared with me some of the deep pains and wounds they’ve experienced at the hands of an offender. Forgiveness is not an easy undertaking. There’s no step 1, step 2, step 3 and you’re done. Like you said in your post, forgiveness is something we must do daily with Christ’s help. Praying for those painful parts of your heart, Andrew! Thanks for being so vulnerable and kind.

  9. Wholeheartedly, enthusiastically agree, Beth! Ultimately forgiveness is between me and my God. I can think of many situations where my offender didn’t even know he/she had offended in the first place. How can we expect repentance? Great explanations and biblical support here, my friend. If we could all get a more accurate grasp on the concept of forgiveness, wouldn’t this world be a better place. Now I just need to bridge the gap between what I know and what I do. :) Hugs!

    • Yes, you bring up another important facet–when our offender doesn’t see it! And even if we point it out to them, they may not see the offense the way we do and there’s no authority we’re given that makes our perspective the “only right one.” We must constantly throw ourselves on the grace of God to untangle these hurts. Thank you, Becky, for coming by and always being a great encourager in my life!

  10. I totally agree but this is definitely not a popular idea. We’re taught that we can’t really offer forgiveness if there isn’t repentance but I don’t see that idea supported in Scripture. But reconciliation? That’s a different story…that might even be a dangerous idea (if the person you are forgiving was abusive, for example, and could still physically harm you because he/she hasn’t repented from that sin). Thank you for this!

    • Actually, I’m kind of surprised, Elizabeth, that you agree. I know you have studied biblical counseling and very often it is in that realm of study that this belief is taught. I’m like you, I don’t see enough evidence of this clause in scripture. There are too many examples of forgiving without holding back in the scriptures that is seems crazy to think otherwise. Now reconciliation is another matter! I think many who hold this view are afraid that the offended won’t take seriously the sins the other person committed against them. But I’m here to say, that’s an unfair response–at least to the way I’m talking about it here. Thanks so much for coming by and weighing in, my friend!

  11. Beth, I love how you’ve broken this down here. I’ve also heard it before, that we should forgive when someone asks for forgiveness, like Christ does. Yet very often, when people say that, or when they explain what they mean, you realize they are talking about reconciliation, not the act of forgiveness. I think a lot of people would be carrying lots of unforgiveness, if all our offenders had to repent of the offense first :) Thanks for yet another good post on this series.

    • Yes, many times our offender disagrees with our assessment that we’ve been injured or hurt by them, so repentance does not occur. If my forgiveness is not complete unless my offender repents, then Christ died for nothing! He broke that law, the written code, that bound us by the letter of the law. Instead, we have His grace and what blessed freedom there is in that! Thanks, Ngina! As always such a pleasure to see you here in the comments and am grateful for the way you’ve encouraged me in this endeavor, my friend!

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