About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

Home Page

I Heard That Forgiveness Doesnít Work

While working at my computer last week I heard an author on the radio say that "forgiveness doesnít work". Well, that caught my attention, so I turned the volume up and waited for his explanation. This author had just published a book concerning building good relationships and "forgiveness doesnít work" was one of his major points.

His explanation went like this. An offender comes to you and says, "Iím sorry for what I did and how I hurt you". In return you say what most people say, "thatís okay, donít worry about it". The offender then leaves and forgets about his offense until he offends again. According to this expression of forgiveness, the author is right, forgiveness doesnít work. But is this really forgiveness?

Many people, including Christians think the above response to an offender is what forgiveness is all about, but itís not. The author went on to state what he felt was the proper response to an offender, which just happens to be Biblical thinking. The offended person should respond by saying something like this. "Okay, youíve offended me. You need to understand what youíve done, acknowledge the offense was wrong, and decide not to offend again. When this happens, youíll be forgiven". You may think thatís a little harsh and not very loving, but this is Biblical forgiveness. This response has a chance to work because it gives the offender an opportunity to rethink the offence and change his thinking. The Bible calls this repentance, which simply means "to change your thinking". Changing your thinking will eventually change your behaviour, making you less likely to re-offend.

The same works with our relationship with Jesus. Before you can have true faith in Jesus, resulting in many things which includes forgiveness, you need to repent by changing your thinking. Once you decide that your thinking is wrong and that Jesusí thinking is right, then and only then can you trust Jesus. If youíre still convinced that your thinking is right, then thereís no logic in thinking youíre going to trust Jesus, because you wonít. Youíll still be trusting your own way of thinking, not His.

The same works with our relationships with each other. Before trust can be rebuilt in a relationship, repentance must be demonstrated. First comes repentance , then comes the next step, which is the first step of trust (faith). After this comes forgiveness, resulting in the desired relationship (reconciliation) where further trust can be developed. This is what God asks of us and we should ask the same from each other.

We should never confuse loving our offender with forgiving him. Acting lovingly towards an offender and forgiving him are two different issues. Jesus wants us to love everyone, even if they continue to offend. Forgiveness is more than acting lovingly or saying "donít worry about your offense". Forgiveness is erasing the offense as if it never happened, not holding the offender accountable for his offense. Erasing the offense according to the Bible cannot happen unless the offender understands that heís in the wrong and is willing to change his thinking. Only then can the offense be forgiven or erased.

We also need to understand that as Christians, when we forgive, weíre acting on behalf of God more than on our own behalf. Itís more about Him than us. Any offense directed towards us is directed towards God as well. Therefore when we forgive, we proclaim that God has erased the offense from His records, just as if the offense never occurred. If God erases the offense, so should we. If He doesnít, we shouldnít either.

This is what John 20:23, and other similar Scriptures means. Jesus says, "if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven". In context Jesus is saying that He has sent us into the world on His behalf to act as His representative because Heís no longer on earth to act on His own behalf. As His representatives we are to pronounce that peopleís sins are erased from both our minds and Godís mind once they have repented and turned to Jesus.

Upon moving back from the U.S. in 1984 I went to a local bank and asked them if they believed in "creative financing". I heard that term at one of those weekend financial seminars where you learn how to become a millionaire in four easy steps. Personally I think the only guys who get rich are the guys who charge you to take their seminar. Well, the lady at the bank didn't want to commit herself, but once she heard my story she told me in no uncertain terms that the bank wasnít that creative. Step one just went down the drain. So with this Biblical definition of forgiveness, meaning to erase ones debt, I suggest that you go to your mortgage company and ask them if they believe in Biblical forgiveness and see what they say.

Though we are to love everyone, including our enemies, I donít believe we can forgive everyone unless they repent and want to be forgiven. Forgiveness is a middle step in the process of reconciliation. It comes after repentance and trust (faith) and before reconciliation. Jesus loves everyone and has provided a way for everyone to be forgiven, but unless we repent, forgiveness wonít be granted. The number one sin we need to repent of is our rejection of Jesus (unbelief). If we fail to repent of this sin, thereís a day of judgment coming which wonít look like itís from a loving, "donít worry about your offense" God. Love is not love unless it is framed in justice and righteousness.


Home Page