I am blessed to be the Associate Pastor of the Rodgers Baptist Church in Garland, TX. That congregation is a blessing and joy to serve. One of the duties that I’m joyfully obligated to perform is the writing and procuring of Sunday school material for our adult classes. Our current study was written by me and is an examination of the seven sayings that Christ made from the Cross. You can find that series on a PDF by clicking here.
The first saying from the Cross is Christ’s prayer requesting forgiveness for those who were crucifying Him. Praise God for the amazing forgiveness that is available through Christ and Christ alone.
Forgiveness is awesome to receive, but sometimes tough to grant. Still, we who are forgiven are called to forgive. Because we have been forgiven much, and, more importantly, because greater is He that is in us that He that is in the world, we can and must forgive others. That does not make forgiveness any easier. It also leaves some questions about forgiveness unanswered.
Here are a few common but important questions concerning forgiveness, and, I trust, Biblical answers for those questions:
- Are some sins unpardonable?
Jesus said in Mark 3:28-29, “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” (see also Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:10). This chilling warning from Christ’s lips needs careful consideration. And we will consider it by first defining what the unpardonable sin is not. The unforgivable sin is not: cursing the Holy Spirit, taking the Lord’s name in vain, adultery, fornication, homicide, genocide, infanticide, suicide, etc. Yes, all of those are despicable sins. (What sins aren’t?) But they are all forgivable. Even blasphemy is forgivable. To blaspheme is to be defiantly irreverent; to openly denigrate and disdain God. At least two apostles were guilty of this sin. Both Paul and Peter had blasphemed. Paul said, in writing about his pre-conversion self, “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief,” (1 Timothy 1:13). Likewise, Peter openly displayed disdain for God when he “Began to curse and to swear, saying, ‘I know not this man of whom you speak,’” (Mark 14:71). Both these men were forgiven and restored, because they acknowledged, repented, and confessed their sin.
Then what is this sin that is beyond forgiveness? Christ called it “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.” But what exactly is that? It is the determined rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness to the deity and Messiahship of Jesus Christ; the refusal to believe Christ in spite of the evidence. It is the perversion of the heart that, according to Isaiah 5:20, calls good evil and evil good or light darkness and darkness light. It is a decided rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness, whether that is a quiet witness in the conscience, the rational witness of the Word, or even miracles and wonders such as witnessed by the Pharisees – who were Jesus’ original audience when He made this statement.
This continual rejection of the Spirit’s witness, this refusal to believe, will result in a loss of opportunity to believe. Christ said such a one “never has forgiveness” (Mark 3:29) and “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mathew 12:32).
This sin is unpardonable because they will not bow before Christ to seek pardon. The Pharisees to whom Christ originally spoke, and all others who blaspheme the Holy Spirit, cut themselves off from God’s mercy, not because it wasn’t offered but because it was abundantly offered yet rebelliously and permanently rejected. What a terrifying thought that people can so totally turn their backs on God’s revelation to the point that He withdraws forever His convicting power.
The warning is severe. It should bring us to our knees, either for our own need of salvation or for the need of others to turn to Christ. But let us not leave on the warning. Listen once more to the offer of grace from Mark 3:28, “All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme.” May we all, in the name of Christ and by the grace of God, acknowledge our sin, confess and repent of our sin before it is too late.
2. Should we pray for those who do not ask for our forgiveness? Yes! Christ taught that we should (Matthew 5:44) and He modeled that teaching (Luke 23:34).
3. Should we forgive those who don’t ask for it? Let’s begin to answer this question by recognizing that God’s offer of forgiveness is unconditional (therefore, ours should be as well), but forgiveness itself is conditioned upon repentance. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” This also means that whosoever does not call upon the name of the Lord will not be saved. 1 John 1:9 reminds us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is right to emphasize the “If we confess.” God does not forgive those who refuse to ask for it.
But apart from God’s forgiveness of sins, what about personal offenses against us? Should we forgive someone who has offended us even if they have not asked for it? Once again we must turn to scripture to rightly answer our questions. In Luke 17:3-4, Christ said, “If thy brother trepass 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.” If he sins against you seven times in a day and repents seven times, you must forgive him seven times. Well, then, just seven times? Try seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22).
I believe it is important for us to understand that forgiveness is not just a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. By that I mean we must always be open and, by God’s grace, eager to extend forgiveness. We must not harbor hatred or malice in our hearts towards our offender. Neither can we treat that person as if he/she had done no wrong, because that is to condone the sin; something we must never do. Understand that forgiveness involves two parties not only one, but we can only control ourselves. By God’s grace and power we can and must overcome anger and resentment. We must release our bitterness to God, commit our adversaries to Him, and always be ready and willing to forgive, and we must always be ready and hopeful for reconciliation. Therefore, when the offender does request forgiveness we can immediately say, “Forgiven!” There is no deliberation because we have been ready and eager to grant them forgiveness. I believe the story of Judy Lawson and Richard Wine is a good illustration of this. If you’re unfamiliar with that story, follow this link. You’ll be glad you did!
Before we move forward it should be said that not every offense requires repentance. Let’s not be so thin-skinned and self-focused that every time someone says or does something that offends us (or fails to say or do something we think they should have) that we require repentance from them. Many offenses are unintentional, and instead of becoming offended and requiring repentance we should follow my Momaw’s advice and not make a mountain out of a mole-hill. Just as God’s Word tells to rebuke a friend who has transgressed against us, and if he repents to forgive him, it also tells us that “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression,” (Proverbs 19:11). It takes a wise heart to know when to rebuke and when to defer.
4. What about justice? It is hard to surrender the anger that seeks for compensation or revenge, but in this, as in every good thing, Christ is our example. 1 Peter 2:23-24 indicates that we must leave justice up to God (see also Romans 12:17-19). He can and will handle it much better than we ever could.
Praise God for forgiveness! The best way to offer that praise is to provide forgiveness to others at all times. Easy? No. Right and good for us? Absolutely!