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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13 thoughts on “Should I Offer Forgiveness Without Repentance?

  1. I have debated this point for years. It never made sense to me that we should unconditionally forgive whether or not the offender ever repents, apologizes, or feels any remorse. I decided years ago that we, as a Christian society confuse the terms “forgive” and “letting go” of the offense and / or the negative feelings we have for the offender. I’ve often referred to Calvary when Christ forgave the thief who repented but did not forgive the other criminal because there was no repentance. I am so glad to see this excellent article complete with the biblical references that puts the concept of forgiveness into a contextual frame that makes sense to me. Thank you.

  2. Mark 11:25 says “And when you stand and pray, forgive anything you may have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive the wrongs you have done.”

  3. How do you deal with the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:12, 14-15, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. but if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” ?

    Jesus clearly says to forgive, and if we don’t, God will not forgive us. He does not say forgive if they repent. He says forgive if you want your heavenly Father to forgive you. From this passage, I’d say that the primary reason to forgive is to restore the relationship with your heavenly Father. If it leads to restoration of an earthly relationship, that is a plus.

    Yes, repentance is important. We are often too reluctant to confront someone for their sin and call them to repentance, but nowhere are we told that we are responsible for making the other person repent. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. If they have offended us and we withhold forgiveness until they repent, the unloving spirit that we show them will be more likely to block them from being open to the work of the Spirit in their lives. It will more likely hinder them from repenting if we stand over them trying to make it happen.

    As mentioned above, Christ died on the cross for my sins long before I was able to repent. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

    Romans 2:4 – says the kindness/goodness of God leads us to repentance.

    If I withhold forgiveness to someone who has offended me, am I not playing as god in their lives? A harsh, demanding god, not one who is kind and good, not as one who would sacrifice His Son to pay the debt I owe.

    –Let he who is without sin cast the first stone–and withhold forgiveness.

    Sometimes forgiving someone is very difficult, but our forgiving does not release the offender from the consequences of their actions. Instead, it releases them from our hands into God’s hands. As we release them, it frees us to receive healing from God, and it gets us out of the way so He is free to bring us healing and to work in their hearts to bring repentance.

    Carrying unforgiveness hangs on to a weight that we are not built to carry. Forgiving an offender for a major offense brings freedom and joy. It may be hard, but it’s worth it to have freedom in Christ.

    1. As far as Matthew 6 goes, there is no conflict. Jesus describes perfectly in Matthew 18:21-35 the process of forgiveness.

      Matthew 7 simply means that if you are sought after for forgiveness, you shouldn’t withhold it, not that it should be given carte blanche. In fact, the old and new testament repeatedly shows the biblical model as repentance in order to receive forgiveness.

      Take 2 Chronicles 7:14 for instance – God shows the model how forgiveness works there as well – forgiveness is given in response to the offender’s actions.

      To give an example – my ex-wife committed adultery and chose divorce. She’s even went so far as to use language that bordered on blaspheming God – and later on misrepresented Him by saying God blessed her life by sending that man her way – as if her sin is something to be celebrated.

      My ex-wife has continued in this unrepentant sin for years. I certainly have let go of the bitterness I felt – but she can’t receive the gift of forgiveness if she never recognizes the need for it. Sure, I can offer it – and if she ever were to ask, I’d give it willingly – and rejoice in it – not because she admitted to me that she did wrong – but because the only way she will ever truly see what she did was wrong is because she’s been convicted by the Holy Spirit and has come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

      I don’t believe she was ever saved – she praised Jesus with her lips, but the fruit in her life, her actions show what she really believes.

      Now if she came to me, and I said to her – “I’ll never forgive you, I can’t – I’m too hurt by what you did,” or something to that effect – then at that point, I’d be disobeying what Jesus laid out in Matthew 7.

      Matthew 6 says to forgive – Matthew 18 illustrates the process of what forgiveness is. Forgiving without taking into the account that there are two parties involved means only accepting part of what Jesus had to say, as opposed to it all.

      ” If they have offended us and we withhold forgiveness until they repent, the unloving spirit that we show them will be more likely to block them from being open to the work of the Spirit in their lives. It will more likely hinder them from repenting if we stand over them trying to make it happen.”

      So here’s the thing – I’ve seen nothing in Scripture that backs up this opinion, but I have seen things that indicate otherwise. While I do agree it is the work of the Holy Spirit – you call it unloving to shun, withhold, etc

      Yet look at church discipline as laid out when sin is involved in Matthew 18:15-17

      If a brother has sinned against another – privately at first, then with two or three witnesses, then to the church if the sinning brother won’t turn from his fault – and if he still won’t turn from his fault – to treat like a Gentile or tax collector – in other words, to treat like somebody who is not saved and is just part of the world. It’s not unloving, it’s really the exact opposite.

      I think Paul understood well when he spoke of Godly sorrow leading to repentance – 2 Corinthians 7:10.

      Yes, we forgive – but repentance, turning away from what we have done is part of that, forgiveness is given in response to that. To not understand that is to misapply scripture and possibly misrepresent Christ when dealing with others.

      1. One more verse to bring up

        Luke 17:3, Jesus clearly shows this as well

        3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

        Like I said, even Jesus states the condition needed for forgiveness, we just can’t withhold it when asked.

    2. Forgiving is not as difficult as repenting. The hardest thing for many of us is to acknowledge our wrong and repent. Only offenders accuse people of un-forgiveness. The accusation is unjustified; there is no peace in the unrepentant heart. Forgiveness cannot be properly preach while minimizing the importance of repentance. Restitution is necessary to have peace in your own heart with someone. Restitution is a form of repentance; this is in relation to people. No one has the power to receives forgiveness without repentance. Forgiveness is received by faith from God or man. God has forgiven the whole world but only the repentant can receive His forgiveness. So also someone has forgiven you but you can’t receive it until you truly repent. True repentance brings peace.
      Luke 17:4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

      Luke 17:3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him

      Matthew 5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

      It is scriptural for the offender to repent; and the offended to forgive..

    3. Kay, I understand your reasoning perfectly. I have been studying biblical peacemaking for over 25 years.

      The single most convicting factor for me comes from the idea that IF forgiveness was conditioned on repentance, then that would mean I would be responsible for determining whether the other person is truly repentant and deserving of my forgiveness. I know that man is NOT able to make that judgment (especially if we are the one offended), nor does God give me permission to do that. To think that we are either capable or permitted to make that assessment would be dangerous.

      That is not to say that God doesn’t require repentance from us. He does.

      If someone repents, then we are obligated to forgive.

      If the person does not repent (or isn’t even aware that they needed to repent), then the relationship may not be reconciled, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t forgive anyway. In that case, the forgiveness is for ME, not for the other person.

      Finally, I would like to quote you in one of my classes and would like to give credit. All I know now is your name, which is what I will use for now.

      Thanks for writing out your thoughts.

  4. Excellent article! God does not forgive the unrepentant, and neither should we. We do more harm when we do not attempt to hold people accountable for their sin.

  5. Eph 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
    Eph 5:12 For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.
    Eph 5:13 But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.

    Maybe we forgive them by showing them Agape love, which is the unconditional love of God, peace and goodwill towards humanity, but unless they repent, we are to have no fellowship with them as phileo love which is brother love.

    There is a difference between brotherly love and agape love. We are called to be separate from the world and the unsaved.

  6. How do you reconcile your viewpoint in light of Luke 23:34?

    “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

    Another similar passage is Acts 7:60:

    “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.

    Both Jesus and Stephen asked God that the people who were responsible for killing them would be forgiven.

  7. Both Jesus and Stephen released their enemies to God’s sovereignty before they “left”. Did you notice that both were murdered? So unless those people made repentance for the blood of the innocent they would suffer eternally for their sins.

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