When it comes to forgiveness we are dealing with both an easy and a complicated subject. We all need forgiveness. Less are willing to grant it.
As relates to our salvation it is a simple matter of faith in Christ whereby we ask for and receive the forgiveness of our sins. Sometimes this is so simple of a concept we want to try and add to the matter by not being willing to forgive ourselves for the things that we have done. It is as if we feel the need to add some sort of penance to God's free grace. But this is not so. Salvation is simple. It is so simple that we don't even have to do anything to contribute to our salvation. Christ has done it all. He bore our sins on the cross--all of them! It is an insult to his death to require more that he has done.
Where things get really complicated, however, is when it comes to human forgiveness rather than divine forgiveness. Forgiveness of the kind that we ask from another and grant to another.
This sort of forgiveness gets complicated when we ask ourselves these questions. Do we only forgive fellow Christians? Do we forgive them only when they repent or regardless of whether or not they repent? Do we forgive those outside of the Christian faith? Do we forgive them only when they "repent" or unconditionally whether they repent or not?
It seems to me that we ought to forgive one another unconditionally and universally. We are obligated to reflect divine forgiveness to believers as well as unbelievers. It is in God's nature to forgive. It is in our nature to forgive. And when it does not seem as if it is in our nature to forgive we must remember that we are commanded to forgive.
The conditional, "if he repents," is surely a given. Of course we forgive a brother if he repents. The Lord taught us to forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors. Again he says that if we forgive others their sins we will be forgiven our sins, but if we do not forgive them, neither will our father forgive us of our sins.
To say that only believers are to be involved in forgiveness as such is to over look the fact that unbelievers do forgive one another--and Christians too! Indeed how can we say we only forgive an unbelieving person who repentantly asks our forgiveness considering that they do not and can not know true repentance? Such reasoning is absurd! Considering that even unbelievers can forgive one another, ought not Christians that have experienced true grace and forgiveness go the extra mile and show love and forgiveness when it is not warranted? What separates us from the unbeliever? It is in that we demonstrate a love that covers a multitude of sins. We turn the other cheek. We love our enemies.
We believe in unconditional election. Why do we fumble the ball at this point and say now that forgiveness is conditional. Christ loved us while we were yet sinners. What unbridled pride is there in that we would have people earn our forgiveness when our Lord himself did not require so much from us. Our hearts show its vengefulness, hatred, and bitterness when we are called upon to forgive unconditionally and we refuse. We want to get even. No we want to get more than even. We want the upper hand and to punish the one who has offended us. How uncharacteristic of Christ this attitude is.
Objection: How is justice to be preserved and served if we are so forgiving? Answer: Is God so small that he does not know of injustices? Is he so small that he cannot right wrongs? "Vengeance is mine," says the Lord. One day we will all give an account of our words and deeds.
Objection: Aren't we required by God to uphold some form of justice in this world? Answer: Of course we are. We must take measures of self preservation and we are obligated to uphold the civil and penal laws of the land. A balance must be found. God is pleased with mercy as well as justice.
Forgiveness does not preclude the prosecution of the criminal. The wife that is beaten and in danger must flee to safety. And a war must be fought with good advice. Restoration and reconciliation are matters of a different sort.
One has the right to call for justice and the full measure of the law. But does one have the spiritual maturity to ask for mercy and offer forgiveness on the part of the offender? Ultimately God will require of man that he be answerable to him. At such a time even eternal punishment awaits those that are not in Christ. Furthermore, it is true that what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven. And it is true that we pray for the destruction of God's enemies. But it is also true that we love our enemies and pray for their salvation. For we too were once the enemies of God.
Objection: I am requiring more than God has required in that we forgive all unconditionally. There will be some whom Christ has not forgiven. Answer: God's eternal election and the forgiveness of man's sins is not so closely related to us in this sense. Man has offended eternal God. He has sinned infinitely. Our sins against one another (though infinitely directed against God) are finite. We can forgive all such offenses that come our way. We cannot see into God's secret decree. But we do know that we as humans created in God's image are forgiving creatures. We are not perfect like God. We cannot bear the weight of an unforgiving spirit. It will eat at our souls and make us men most miserable. Unbelievers understand this. This is demonstrated in even the worst cases. We find that many times an unbeliever will say, "I want you to know that I have forgiven you," to those who have without conscience taken one of their loved one's life, or done great harm to them personally, or to their property etc.
Objection: We are not explicitly commanded to forgive unconditionally. Answer: It is admitted that this argument is based more on the teaching of scripture as a whole than on specific examples. This does not invalidate the argument, however, but on the contrary challenges one's true character as a Christian. Let us ask ourselves where our hearts lie on the matter? Can you pray as Christ did? "Father forgive them. They no not what they are doing." Or as Stephen did? "Do not hold this sin against them."
Objection: We are given the option to forgive unconditionally apart from repentance on the part of the offender as Christ and Stephen did, but we are not required to. Answer Where is the proof for such a notion? Again doesn't this appeal to man's pride and vanity? Doesn't this attempt to raise him to the level of God who is discriminating in his forgiveness? God's election is secret to man, therefore, we preach to all. Why be presumptuous and selective at this point?
Objection: Christ prayed this prayer in his humanity and not in his divinity. Answer: Perhaps he did. Does not this prove my case?