Tag Archives: repentance

Why doesn’t God just forgive everyone?

I’ve often wondered something similar myself. “Why doesn’t God save everyone?” After all, he has the power to do so.

Did you know that some Christians do believe that God saves everyone … eventually?

Saving everyone would entail forgiving everyone. But not everyone is truly sorry for their sins. Some people show no remorse for their sins or even acknowledge that they have sinned against others and God. How can God forgive the unrepentant? Some people talk as though forgiveness doesn’t require repentance, like when we speak of forgiving unrepentant abusive parents or violent terrorists. But it seems best to me to keep those concepts—forgiveness and repentance—connected while acknowledging that something else is going on in the cases just mentioned.

My husband (a philosophy professor) and I have often discussed this question. He offers this example. Suppose a parent offers to forgive a child for a particular misdeed, yet the child keeps sinning against the parent with no remorse. The relationship between the parent and the child is still fractured even though the parent extended forgiveness to the child. The parent desires an intimate, joy-filled relationship exemplifying reconciliation. God is like that parent.

God is good, beautiful, and full of compassion (Psalm 136:1). Forgiveness through Jesus Christ is for all (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9), but not all of us have it. Some of us continue to arrogantly resist God because we think we know better than God. Like Satan, we desire to be God (see Isaiah 14:12–15; Matthew 4).

But some say that in the end, even if people experience hell, they’ll have a chance to escape hell. Furthermore, they claim God’s love is irresistible and unconditional, so the unrepentant in this life cannot help but be wooed and so repent even after death. As for me, I’m inclined to think that some will stubbornly resist God in this life and in the next.

This question leads to many other theological questions about the nature of hell, the problem of evil, and the salvation of people such as babies, the intellectually disabled, and others who cannot understand the propositions of the gospel. There is quite a bit I don’t know about this topic. But I do know God is loving, compassionate, and just. And I truly trust him to judge rightly.

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If a Christian Believer is Already Saved, Why is Ongoing Repentance Necessary?

Jesus linked repentance with salvation (Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:3; 17:3).

In Acts 2:38, the term repentance includes the element of faith. Paul in Ephesus preached turning “to God in repentance” and “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Repentance is an ingredient of faith. It is a change of mind that involves both a negative aspect (a turning from sin) and a positive one (a turning to God). On Mars Hill, Paul declared that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV).

Even the most mature Christian harbors unconscious sin (Proverbs 20:9; Isaiah 53:6; 1 John 1:8) and will be corrected by the Holy Spirit as hidden sin is brought to the surface. When Christians come to the realization that they have been committing serious sins, there are two reasons they should repent. The first is to express the genuineness of their faith. (A person who is unwilling to renounce continuing, conscious, serious sin may not be a genuine believer.) The second reason is to maintain a close relationship with their Father in heaven.

As Judge, God declared us pardoned and accepted into His family when we put our trust in Jesus. But as God’s children, we can remain in close fellowship to Him only when we daily acknowledge our sins and ask His help in overcoming them. Jesus said that a person who has been bathed doesn’t need another bath; his only need is to have his feet washed.

Jesus . . . rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean” (John 13:3-11 NKJV).

The bath of which Jesus spoke is that once-for-all, complete cleansing received at salvation. Foot washing symbolizes the family forgiveness maintained by daily repentance and confession.

First John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NKJV). By practicing the words of this verse, we enjoy our relationship with our heavenly Father and we grow in likeness to Him. The daily cleansing we receive through repentance and confession will also make us less vulnerable to temptation and readier to do His will.

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Can Someone Be Forgiven if They Commit the Same Sin Again After Confessing and Repenting it?

No one who asks God for forgiveness can be confident that they won’t commit the same sin again. In fact, our natures are so contaminated by sin that we often do. When Peter asked Jesus whether we are obligated to forgive a person who sins against us seven times (Peter’s “seven times” more than doubled the rabbinic prescription), Jesus said: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22 NKJV).

Jesus made it clear that God’s primary concern is not mere outward behavior, but the condition of the heart Matthew 23:25-26; Mark 7:5-9; Luke 11:42-44; Luke 11:42-44. Therefore the sincerity of the confession is what counts.

Unfortunately, we can be sincere in our repentance and confession and still fall into sin again. Because believers continue to be influenced by the “flesh”—the fallen aspect of their personalities—in this world they are incapable of perfect sincerity. At times they are more vulnerable to temptation than at other times. With the passage of time, the strong awareness of evil and the ugliness of sin that brought us to repentence often fades.

Sincere confession of sin is a heartfelt acknowledgment that our sin is wrong, that we don’t want to continue in it, and that we are ready to exert ourselves—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—to resist it. God doesn’t expect perfection, because none of us are capable of achieving it, but He does expect sincerity.

Sin is highly addictive, and when we’re not on our guard we can easily succumb to the false sense of relief we experience when we surrender to our compulsions. We need to be aware of sin’s addictive nature. Like someone who is attempting to quit smoking or drinking, the worst thing we can do is to give up on our desire to change or believe we can never change, even though we relapse in moments of weakness.

As we experience increasing freedom from sin, we will experience an increasing awareness of evil and understand more deeply how sin carries its own penalty. Each time genuine believers relapse into sin, they will experience more conviction and a more painful awareness of sin’s destructiveness. Each time they repent and confess their sins, they will be purer, stronger, and less likely to relapse.

Of course, some sins are so serious that even sincere repentance can’t erase their earthly consequences. Sins like murder and adultery can be forgiven by God in the ultimate sense and by fellow Christians in the sense of hoping for a sinner’s restoration, but the damage such sins inflict usually cannot be undone in this life, and consequences such as imprisonment or divorce may be unavoidable.

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Should Forgiveness Be Unconditional?

People often have the impression that the Bible requires forgiveness to be unconditional.

1 But the Bible doesn’t say that. It tells us that we should “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). While God’s forgiveness is undeserved, it certainly isn’t unconditional. The Lord’s forgiveness is offered only to those who confess their sin and repent (2 Chronicles 7:14; Leviticus 26; Luke 13:3; 1 John 1:8-10).

On the surface, it might seem noble to forgive unconditionally. But unconditional forgiveness is usually motivated more by fear than by love. And because of this it’s usually destructive. If a wife continues to forgive a habitually unfaithful and abusive husband unconditionally, her toleration of his behavior will probably result in even more abuse and disrespect. This kind of “unconditional” forgiveness expresses a determination to cling to the status quo. No matter how bad things are, this woman fears that things will probably get worse if she holds her husband accountable. Her passive acceptance of his behavior will probably encourage him to continue in his sin. Instead of her forgiveness being a helpful act of love, it is actually a violation of love that will hinder his growth toward Christlikeness.

Jesus’ specific teaching about forgiveness in Luke 17:3-4 makes it clear that forgiveness should follow repentance:

Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, “I repent,” you shall forgive him.

Undeserved forgiveness and unconditional forgiveness are radically different. It takes courage and character to forgive those who repent and ask our forgiveness. If we forgive them, we expose ourselves to the risk of being hurt again. Their repentance doesn’t earn our forgiveness in any way. They are still responsible for the harm they’ve done. But though their repentance doesn’t make them deserving of our forgiveness, it makes them eligible. We can forgive them because of the example of forgiveness that God has given us in Christ (Matthew 18:21-35).

Unconditional forgiveness is an affront against justice and a denial of the significance of sin and its cruel effects. Undeserved forgiveness is an expression of divine love and the only basis of our hope for salvation.

In a flawed world, forgiveness shouldn’t be given unconditionally. But we should always be willing to share the undeserved forgiveness we have received through Christ. We should be realistic in confronting our enemies, but we should also seek to love them and respond to them in a way that is ultimately in their best interest.

  1. In Matthew 5:38-47, Jesus made three radical statements. First, He said that a person should turn the other cheek when someone strikes him. Second, He declared that His followers should give those who sue them more than they are asking. And third, He said that a person who is conscripted by a Roman officer to carry a load for one mile should offer to go two. Does this mean that we shouldn’t defend ourselves when somebody attacks us? Is it our duty to let others take advantage of us? This couldn’t have been Jesus’ intention. After all, He counseled His disciples to be as “wise as serpents and as gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16). His well-known “golden rule” (Matthew 7:12) contains the clear implication that we shouldn’t encourage people to do something that would harm their character (like abuse others, steal, etc.). Back To Article
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How Can I Forgive Someone Who Sexually Abused Me?

You took the difficult and vital step of confronting your abuser, but far from bringing some resolution, his reaction made it clear that he still is remorseless and unrepentant. It isn’t surprising that you are upset.

You needn’t feel guilty about your strong feelings. God designed us to have an intense emotional response to evil. Your natural revulsion to unrepented sin isn’t wrong in itself, nor should it be considered contrary to forgiveness. Forgiveness never ignores the harm that someone has caused us. But even though your feelings of outrage are no reason for you to feel guilty, it’s good that you are aware of them. Your awareness of your feelings will make it possible for you to be instructed by them, rather than being consumed by them.

Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” Anger in itself isn’t wrong. What is wrong is being controlled by it in a way that leads to sin. Our anger may be partially driven by righteous outrage, but because of our fallen nature an element of our anger is always like the fury of a dangerous beast — rooted in a lust for power and vengeance. That’s why even though we can’t keep natural feelings from erupting,we need to take charge of our response to them.

It took courage for you to broach the subject with your abuser. Further, the fact that you are disappointed by his response implies that you would be ready to forgive him if he were remorseful. At this point the emotional distance that exists between you and your abuser is mostly the consequence of his attitude and behavior. You can’t bridge the distance alone.

Jesus told us to love our enemies. Loving means to seek the best interests of another. Through our relationship with Christ we can find the strength to seek the best interests of those who harm us. But seeking the best interests of others involves holding them accountable for their sin ( Matthew 18:15-17 ).

There is nothing loving about shielding an evildoer from the ugliness of his sin. Jesus didn’t serve as an “enabler” for evildoers seeking to conceal their deeds. Although Jesus was the personification of love,He truthfully characterized people who consciously resisted the truth as vipers ( Matthew 12:34 ), thieves ( Matthew 21:13 ), whitewashed tombs ( Matthew 23:27 ), liars ( Revelation 3:9 ), and murderers ( John 8:44 ).

The key issue is the attitude of your abuser. Jesus made it clear that forgiveness and reconciliation are linked with repentance ( Luke 17:1-4 ). Only when an offender confesses his willful sin can we rightfully forgive him for what he has done. This man will have to sincerely repent 1 to be a beneficiary of God’s grace ( Leviticus 26:40-42 ; Job 42:5-6 ; Psalm 32:5 ; Proverbs 28:13 ; Jonah 3:8-9 ; Luke 15:21 ; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 ; 1 John 1:9 ). Although we can pray for an offender and take action to seek restoration, a relationship cannot be healed until he has done what is right in accepting the responsibility for his past wrongs.

Is it really loving to be so confrontational? Yes. It is sometimes the only truly caring course of action. Confrontation can be the first step in demonstrating that you believe in a person’s potential for godliness.It is likely that King David would not have repented of his wickedness in taking another man’s wife and arranging the death of her husband if the brave prophet Nathan had not told him a parable that portrayed his sin in all of its ugliness and then said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12 ).

This pattern reflects the way God Himself deals with our sin. The Bible declares that God can forgive all sin — including the cruelest and most intentional. God Himself paid the price for the reconciliation of all sinners ( John 3:16 ; Romans 3:24-25 ; Ephesians 1:7 ; 1 John 4:9 . But though God provided the basis for forgiveness, He imposes forgiveness upon no one against his or her will. He also expects those who have harmed others to make restitution where possible, or to take whatever measures are necessary to minimize the chances of harming others (Isaiah 1:16 ; Luke 19:8-10 ; John 8:11 ; Hebrews 10:26 ).

Your angry feelings are an important factor in keeping you from offering a premature forgiveness that would let your abuser minimize and ignore his evil. Yet your actions shouldn’t be based on your anger, but on a willingness to honor and obey God ( Exodus 23:4 ; Proverbs 24:17; 25:21-22 ; Matthew 18:21-35 ; Ephesians 4:32 ; Colossians 3:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:15 ).

Each of us begins life hating God and the Son He sent to redeem us.In Christ, God provides the supreme example of forgiveness. His example makes it clear that we shouldn’t be nurturing hatred or desiring vengeance. Instead, we should be willing to forgive when our offender truly repents. Forgiveness and restoration, however,can’t take place until your abuser is truly sorry for what he has done.

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