Bridget: “How are we supposed to forgive people who continually hurt us and are so prideful that they never see their fault and never admit that they have wronged someone?”
Stephanie: “You need to forgive them, whether or not they ask for it.”
Bridget: “But if they don’t acknowledge they are sinning, then they will just continue to stomp around on people and receive forgiveness for things they don’t care for being sorry about!”
I have had so many conversations just like this one, with me being “Bridget”, but this never really set well with me. I thought I was being sinful by being unable to forgive someone even when they didn’t ask because I should have, right? Perhaps I was too angry, or bitter, or full of wrath/rage or malice toward this person. These are things we are told to flee from (Ephesians 4:31), this verse also tells us to forgive as the Lord forgives us (also Colossians 3:13) So, for years and years I struggled with how to forgive someone who really doesn’t care that they’ve done anything wrong and hadn’t even said “sorry” much less asked for forgiveness.
I kept reading and talking with trusted friends about the topic. Discernment has been a dear friend to me over the years, and I began to realize that the above advice I received from countless people was not entirely sound. My friend and current pastor’s wife, Joy, finally put words to what I struggling with. She said, “Why do you need to forgive someone when they haven’t asked for forgiveness? God doesn’t do that with us.”
And I had an epiphany! Or rather, the Holy Spirit started putting it all together for me. I eagerly started re-studying all the scripture I had studied before and this time with a new lens. Instead of having the perspective of judgement on me because I wasn’t in a spot to forgive, I sought out to see what the Bible actually says about forgiving others – apart from my situation and my heart, just in general.
Let’s look again at Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
At first glance, it does look like we need to forgive regardless of repentance but I want to point something out…
“…forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The condition for our forgiveness from God is being in Christ. In order to be in Christ, we must first believe in Him for the forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 1:13-14; 1 Peter 1:8-9; Romans 3:23-25, etc) – that requires us to repent!
Taking a closer look at Colossians 3:12-15 we see again that we need to “forgive others as the Lord forgives” us, which is through belief in the redemption of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf & repentance.
Both these passages also tell us to have a heart and attitude of kindness, compassion, patience, etc. These virtues we must seek out in living with all people, this is exemplifying the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). In the area of forgiveness, I believe this means that we need to have a heart ready and willing to forgive when wrong-doing has been confessed and forgiveness has been sought.
When God forgives us it’s because we admit we are sinners, we repent & admit we cannot live for Him on our own, and we ask for forgiveness. We are then saved through faith in Jesus and given the Holy Spirit to help us (Romans 6:23; Romans 10:9; 2 Corinthains 5:17; Ephesians 2:8-9; Ephesians 1:13). However, God took the first step toward reconciliation with us. He became flesh, he lived a sinless life and died a sinner’s death to be a sacrifice in our place. He was resurrected and defeated death in order to offer forgiveness. He was ready and able to forgive anyone who asked Him of it – through Christ.
For me, I can say that I was not at a point where I was ready, willing, and able to offer forgiveness to this particular person if and when she admitted wrong-doing and asked for it. I was bitter and angry and that was sin. But I do not believe that not forgiving her was sin.
I have since been praying for God to work in me, confessing my sin of bitterness, anger and even malice (in my thoughts) toward this person and asking that God would change me. I’ve been praying that He would bring me to a place where I could easily extend forgiveness to her if she ever asked for it. Honestly I don’t know where I’m at right now, whether or not I’m ready to forgive her, but I do know that I have been displaying more patience, kindness, grace, and even initiating effort toward her in the last year. This is a huge thing in my life – something only God could do, and I’m grateful for my growth in this area.
Also shared at: Serving Joyfully