Should I Offer Forgiveness Without Repentance?

Unconditional forgiveness is canceling a debt to all those who intentionally offend us, whether or not they own up to what they have done. Offering forgiveness without repentance, however, does not follow the biblical model of forgiveness (Luke 17:3,4).

The Bible says that we are to forgive as God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13). God forgives us when we repent (Mark 1:15, Luke 13:3,5, Acts 3:19). He does not grant forgiveness to those of us who are stiff-necked and refuse to repent. We must recognize our sin and repent to receive and enjoy God’s merciful forgiveness. God requires repentance and so must we.

Repentance is important because it’s a person’s only hope for real change (Matthew 18:3; Acts 26:20). If we don’t admit our sin, it’s impossible to be transformed. If we aren’t keenly aware of the sinful direction our lives are going, we will not see a need to adjust the direction. Repentance demonstrates that we need God to help us change our thinking, attitudes, and behavior.

An unrepentant person maintains a sense of control over his life through pride, which can lead to destruction, violence, and animosity (Proverbs 8:13; 16:18; 29:23). Turning toward God (repentance) is necessary to break the cycle of destructive behaviors and patterns of relating to others. If as believers we don’t require repentance on the part of the offender, we stand in the way of that person’s coming to see his need for God and experiencing His forgiveness. To put it simply, forgiveness is a two-way process: repentance on the part of the offender and pardon on the part of the offended.

When only one part of the forgiveness process takes place, the hurt felt by the offended one can lead to hatred, bitterness, and desire for revenge. Because we desperately want relief from the gnawing desire to get even, we can be tempted to let an issue go, or “forgive” without ever confronting the person or waiting for him to show remorse.

It’s wrong, however, to assume that if we don’t forgive someone, we’ll be weighed down with hatred, bitterness, and revengeful desires. That’s not necessarily true because the Bible says we are to love a person regardless of whether or not he or she shows any remorse. We can love our enemies1, but continue to have an unsettled issue with them. In many cases, it is more loving to withhold forgiveness until a change of heart is demonstrated than it is to offer forgiveness without the offender’s acknowledgment of deliberate wrongdoing.

Instead of giving in to revenge, we can soften our hearts toward those who have hurt us when we humbly admit that we, too, have hurt others. It is only by God’s grace that we can enjoy His goodness toward us at all. Just as important, we can have faith that God will avenge if it is necessary (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 12:19-21) and that He will hold each of us accountable (Romans 14:12; Hebrews 4:13 ). We don’t need to worry because our pain doesn’t go unnoticed by our Lord (Psalm 147:3). With that frame of mind, we can demonstrate a deeper trust in God and be led to pray for those who’ve hurt us.

Yes, an unconditional pardon can be granted without the offender ever knowing they’ve hurt us. But this one-sided “forgiveness” is not in our best interest, nor in the best interest of the person who hurt us. It devalues the significance of repentance and robs both the offender and us of the opportunity to grow in Christ.

The ultimate purpose of forgiveness is the healing of a relationship. This healing occurs only when the offender repents and demonstrates remorse and the offended one grants a pardon and demonstrates loving acceptance.

  1. An enemy can be defined as one who intentionally hurts us, is destructive, and can’t be trusted because of his or her lack of remorse. Unconditional forgiveness implies that our response to our enemies should be to offer a pardon with no response on the part of the offender. The Bible teaches, however, that we should respond to our enemies in love (Matthew 5:44). Scripture does not teach that we need to forgive our enemies. Instead, we should love them and pray for them. Love and forgiveness are not synonymous. Back To Article
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