Is Forgiveness Always Possible?
Does God Always Forgive?
Are there some things for which God will deny us forgiveness? The truth is, it is hard to sin beyond the grace of God. God's mercy is limitless, and His love for us is larger than the universe. Once we accept the Christ as our Savior, God forgives our sins--past, present, and future. The debt of sin (transgressions that we confess are a sin, and are in agreement with the word of God on what constitutes sin, and is, therefore, wrong for us to do) has been paid with the blood of Jesus.
Confession, repentance, and asking for forgiveness of sin brings us back into fellowship with God the Creator, who has already forgiven us. According to the gospel of Mark (3:22-30) and Matthew (12:31-32), the only unforgivable sin is committed by those who reject the Holy Spirit's message about Jesus.
But what about us? Do we always have to forgive wrongs committed against us? Do others always have to forgive wrongs we commit against them?
Do We Always Have to Forgive?
Even though we, as Christians, understand that forgiveness can free us from the venom of bitterness, resentment, anger, mean-spirited attitudes, and rage--as flawed human beings, it can still be hard for us to forgive.
Even though our Bible teaches us we need to be able to forgive, so that we can experience the “ventilation” and the liberation that forgiveness provides, it is still not always an easy thing to do. Even though we understand that God asks us to forgive others so that we can receive forgiveness from Him when we sin, still, it is not always easy. But easy or not, God desires that we do it anyway.
God teaches us that it is right to extend forgiveness. In Luke 23:34, Jesus said, “. . . Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Apparently sometimes the ignorance of human beings can be so great, God still bestows merciful forgiveness upon them.
God also provides a way for us to deal with someone who stubbornly refuses to ask for forgiveness, or to admit his or her wrongdoing or transgressions against us. In Matthew 18:15-17, the inspired word of God says:
“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.”
God's forgiveness is vast and deep, because His love for us is vast and deep. He even guides us in how He wants us to approach someone who needs to ask our forgiveness.
By telling us to “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone,“ God is teaching us to be discreet about the matter of being denied forgiveness. He instructs us to speak in privacy with the transgressor. God says if the transgressor hears us, we will have gained a brother. The transgressor who truly hears will respect the fact that you approached him or her in private, and will ask forgiveness at that point, and will be repentant.
But the transgressor who does not hear when approached in private is a different matter. The Bible tells us when this happens, we should conduct an intervention by taking others with us to confront the person. It is a good thing to have witnesses also hear about the transgression, as well as to hear us offer the transgressor an opportunity to ask our forgiveness.
If the transgressor also refuses to hear in the presence of witnesses, then God says we should tell it to the church. Remember, wherever two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus, that is church. But, if the act of taking the matter to the church also fails to get the transgressor's attention, God says we should then think of them as we would a heathen.
What does it mean to think of someone, anyone, as we would think of a "heathen and a publican?" A heathen can be defined as someone who worships false gods, or someone who professes love for God, yet does not obey the Commandments of God. When Christ walked among men, a "publican" was considered to be a vile person, most often a common tax collector. The position was widely seen as occupied by unscrupulous men who often engaged in extortion, exacting more from people in the form of taxes than what was rightfully owed.Therefore, God wants us to work to help transgressors gain forgiveness, but if they refuse, God wants us to know we are free to disassociate from them.
Forgiveness is not always easy. But it is always a choice. We are all human, and we are all weak. For these reasons, we are all going to make mistakes in our relationships with each other. But because we've been given the power of forgiveness, we have a way to allow each other second chances. Jesus provides us with this way, for it surely is an example of His divine nature that can be reflected in our actions toward one another.
Freeing ourselves of resentment is only part of what the Christ had in mind when it comes to the power of forgiveness. Just as God forgives us for our sake, He asks us to join with Him in being part of the redemptive process for those who have asked for mercy. He asks us to do this not in our own strength, but by His grace working in us.
© 2013 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD