In many christian groups it is said that we have to forgive everyone no matter what. Some even say that we have to forgive everyone before we can receive healing, the Holy Spirit, or some other blessing. As example of being forgiving, they point to Jesus who forgave those who crucified him. However, as you can read in the Bible passage below, that is not literally what Jesus did.
You can think, but it looks like Jesus forgives those who crucify him. However, if you read it again, it is not Jesus himself who forgives. Jesus asks his Father to forgive, he is not offering forgiveness himself. You can also read something like this when Stephan is stoned to death.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. ~ Acts 7,59-60 ~
Stephan is stoned because he follows Jesus, but he doesn’t curse those who stone him. He asks God to do not hold this sin against them. This is equivalent to asking God to forgive those who stone him. So, also Stephan does not forgive those who stone him, but asks God to forgive them. But why do so many Christians say that they need to forgive everyone? This is probably what they derived from the following passage.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. ~ Matthew 6,14-15 ~
This passage sounds like we have to forgive anyone. However, this passage follows immediately after Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer. With this prayer he taught to ask for God’s forgiveness, just as we forgave those who sinned against us. So, why didn’t Jesus and Stephan forgive those who killed them? The question we have to answer to understand the passage from Matthew 6 is this: how does God forgive us?
If God just forgave everyone, we should do so as well. But then we didn’t have to ask for forgiveness, because we would always be forgiven and then we should also forgive anyone always. So, because we have to ask for forgiveness, this may also have something to do with us forgiving others and God forgiving us. Let’s have a look at the following passages from the Bible.
So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” ~ Luke 17,3-4 ~
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1,9 ~
Jesus teaches in the first passage that we have to forgive if someone repents. From the latter passage we learn that we are forgiven when we confess our sins. Confessing and repenting go together. We cannot go to someone and say we repent without sharing from what we are repenting. Similarly, we cannot confess our sins, without turning away from it.
This is very helpful for us. When someone sinned against us and later repents and asks for forgiveness, we should definitely forgive them. But what to do when they do not ask for forgiveness? Lately, I was led by the Lord to pray about people who had hurt me in the past. They probably did not realize it, but my problem was that I was still angry about it and sometimes it got me frustrated. Then, after praying about it, I did what Jesus did. In prayer I asked that God would forgive what those people did to me. Doing so really gave me peace and I was free from anger and frustration.
Although there is not always an opportunity to forgive people who hurt you, because they are not in your life anymore or they don’t want to repent, it is still possible to be free from grudge towards those who have hurt you. This is important, because when we can still get angry about people who have hurt us, we cannot be free to love everyone. This is also what the Bible teaches.
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ~ 1 Peter 2,23 ~
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. ~ Romans 12,17-19 ~
Peter writes about Jesus’ example for us. Jesus did not take revenge, but he left it over to God by asking for their forgiveness. Also Paul writes about this in Romans 12. We should not take revenge and try to live in peace with everyone. In other words, we should forgive when someone repents and asks for forgiveness. When someone does not, we should leave judgment to God and not take revenge.
When preparing this teaching, a thought came to mind. If we forgive everyone, regardless if they have asked for forgiveness, it might be that we put ourselves on God’s throne. I mean this in the sense that if we forgive or bind something on earth, it will be forgiven or bound in heaven (Jesus teaches about this in Matthew 18,18 and John 20,23). If someone repents, it is a good thing to forgive. But if we forgive those who haven’t repented, then it can be that God does not have a prosecutor against them and they cannot be judged by God (like with Sodom and Gomorra as in Genesis 18,19-21). However, I don’t think this is the right time to write about this.
The point of this teaching is that it is important to forgive those who repent. To those who don’t repent, leave it up to God. Be open about it in prayer and ask God for their forgiveness. Doing this will set us free from grudge. As well as giving it over to God, while we don’t have to force ourselves to forgive someone who does not repent. I hope this will help you to follow Jesus and to live in freedom.
God bless you!