Have you ever heard sermons on the importance of forgiveness and how we are to forgive our neighbor regardless of their crime? I believe many people as myself have experienced a reluctancy or desire to hold onto judgement rather than forgive as if to forgive someone was an accomplishment of great effort. Its as if that forgiveness did not come from our nature but was contrived. We would say I forgive you with our words, but our heart held onto the pain. This reluctancy is not something I want to have in me but rather is a frustration and irritation that wars against what I desire to do. Why should I hesitate to forgive and why should my heart be so encumbered by such a command? Is it because I am selfish? I have found my answer to this question and seen my heart turned around, but the answer originally offended me. If you’re willing to potentially be offended, I’ll share my revelation with you.
The truth is, we treat others as we believe God treats us. If he is not forgiving my sins why should I forgive someone else’s sins? Or perhaps I should say, when I believe I have to do things in order to be forgiven… conditional forgiveness, I place those same conditions on others. If I have to make atonement for my crime to be forgiven then my heart requires others to make atonement for their crimes in order to forgive them. These then were the reasons my heart was reluctant. “Why should I forgive someone who didn’t say they are sorry if God does not forgive me unless I am sorry? Should I be better than God?”
The essence of the problem is this: The same people who taught me to forgive unconditionally forgot to teach me that I am forgiven unconditionally. Until I can receive unconditional forgiveness, my heart will never see it as fair to give forgiveness to someone that way. Yet, some people are afraid that teaching forgiveness and the grace of God will lead people into sin. So they mix the forgiveness with some work of our own so that we still have to put effort into attaining it. This teaching of conditional forgiveness leads to reluctant obedience. For, “He who is forgiven much loves much. He who is forgiven little loves little.” Remember the woman caught in adultery? God turned aside her accusers and forgave her unconditionally. The woman did not continue in her sin but had the power to be free of it.
The knowledge that we are unconditionally forgiven leads to love, not sin, and a willingness to do what is right. Grace desires to be shared. It is the same joy that someone might get when receiving a million dollars. They will celebrate with their friends and share their wealth so they may enjoy it with someone. In the same way, when someone is unconditionally forgiven they desire to share their joy with others by showing the same grace to them. Conditional forgiveness does not have this effect because it is always uncertain and is not given in joy but under compulsion as a reward for whatever service required it. II Peter, chapter 1 describes the fruits of forgiveness as follows:
“5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.”
You see, unless these people know they are forgiven they do not grow in the fruits of forgiveness. The greater the conditions, the less forgiveness I receive and the less of its fruit I find in my life. Therefore instead of being afraid of teaching unconditional forgiveness, we must embrace it if we are to see people radically transformed. This is the offense I endured. The offense of laying aside all the conditions I had put on forgiveness. Some might say you have to make some kind of restitution others say you must be able to turn away from the sin and do good in order to be forgiven. I know that sounds wise and good, but in practice it is miserable and does not produce godly fruit. In order to be perfectly forgiven, the man would have to be perfectly flawless, which God calls a hopeless case. This is essentially saying I have to earn my righteousness, earn my way into heaven, deserve of my own merits. That belief can be summarized as, “I’m forgiven only of sins I don’t commit.” This kind of belief puts no reliance on God. For if forgiveness is conditional, then it doesn’t rely on God. Our only responsibility is to accept forgiveness as it is. Forgiveness is not a loan, it cancels the debt, it does not extend it. Forgiveness does not say, if you promise to do better in the future I will pardon you now. This is another man-made condition that must be removed from forgiveness.
Also confession, I believe has been misunderstood. I believe confession has a value for someone who is not aware of their forgiveness and carries guilt, but I do not believe it is a requirement to obtain it. There are two places in the new testament that talk about confession. The first one was addressing gnostics who didn’t believe in the existence of sin. The argument that was being made was that without sin, forgiveness is not needed and salvation is impossible. Therefore one must confess that he has sins in order to receive forgiveness. For why would you need forgiveness if there was no penalty to begin with? Such a belief would cause a person to ignore the gospel all together. This not being a continual practice to obtain it but rather a one time event and heart change that allows the heart to accept forgiveness and the salvation of Jesus.
James 5 also mentions confession as a privilege that can be indulged because we are forgiven. “13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
The verse does not say, if he confesses he will be forgiven. But rather, if he has sinned, he will be forgiven. I do not think this verse is saying that confession is necessary to receive forgiveness. I see this confession as a way to release our consciences from the guilt and be healed. We are forgiven even before we confess our sins which is why we can have the confidence to confess. Guilt is not always a problem, but sometimes we loose sight of the fact we are forgiven and need someone to remind us. Confessing our sins can release the guilt if it has been dragging us down. Because of this, I do not think it is beneficial to confess your sins to someone who will not remind you that you are forgiven. Such a practice only brings condemnation and produces sour fruit. If they penalize you, then confession has lost its value. The reason I argue this is because my heart can never believe it is completely forgiven if it also believes forgiveness is conditional, because it will always worry that it has not confessed every sin. And if I do not know that I am forgiven, how can its fruit grow in my life? As good as the belief of confess to be forgiven sounds, I believe its more of a hinderance than a benefactor to a godly life.
Because Christ is the sacrifice of atonement that reconciled you to God, your high priest, and your sacrifice you are now justified apart from any wrong you could do. Forever more you are completely forgiven once and for all of all your sins (Hebrews 10:14), and set free from every sin (Acts 13:39). They will never again be remembered by any means (Hebrews 10:17), never put on record (1 Corinthians 13:5), never counted against you (Romans 4:8). They will be covered over (Romans 4:7) and thrown as far away as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). You are saved to the uttermost for all time (Hebrews 7:25), You will never have to make atonement, reconcilement, sacrifice, or do any religious ritual to cleanse yourself or make up for your faults (Hebrews). This is what justification means and this justification comes only through faith in Christ. Once I asked the Lord, “Do you only forgive people who are willing to turn from their sin?” The Lord answered, “I forgive people who are willing to be forgiven.” Receive your forgiveness because its not conditional upon your works!