Recently, a believer shared his view that a Christian should never forgive another person for sin unless that person first repents. I had never heard this belief before, so I searched the Bible to find a basis for it. Here is what Jesus says 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.
The first thing I note is the term “brother,” which refers to a brother in Christ. So Jesus seems to be speaking about a Christian who sins against another Christian.
It also seems that Jesus is emphasizing forgiveness instead of repentance. After all, if a person commits the same sin seven times in a day and repents each time, did he really repent the first six times?
The idea being conveyed here is the idea that we ought to continue to forgive even when it seems irrational to do so.
Naturally, if my brother in Christ speaks to me out of anger seven times in a day, each time asking forgiveness, my flesh will not want to forgive my brother. But Jesus says that I should forgive him anyway.
But is repentance a requirement for forgiveness? I do not think so. Only one part of the verse above seems to imply this: “and if he repents, forgive him.”
The phrasing of this part of the verse does not seem to indicate that repentance is a requirement for forgiveness. If this were the case, we might expect to find similar instruction elsewhere in the scriptures, but we do not find it anywhere.
We do, however, find plenty of verses that prove forgiveness plays an important role in the life of a believer. For example:
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. (Colossians 3:12-13)
And how did God forgive us? Paul provides the answer in Romans 5:8.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
And Paul goes further in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
Did we first repent, and then Jesus came to die for our sins because we had already repented? Was our repentance a prerequisite for Jesus’ forgiveness of our sins?
Not in the least.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, not counting our sins against us. Indeed, Jesus made peace through the blood of His cross, and is reconciling all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:19-20).
In other words, Jesus forgave us first. We each repent later at God’s appointed time.
Jesus is the cause. We are the response.
This is why Jesus says in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
It is also why Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Faith and repentance are not based on the will of man, but on the will of God and His perfect timing for each individual.
Here is the good news: You are already forgiven. Jesus died on the cross to atone for your sins and the sins of the whole world. Therefore, be reconciled to God.