A Surprise from Scripture

All of this leads me to another question: Does God expect us to forgive everyone who sins against us, even those who don’t humble themselves, admit their sin, and request forgiveness?

As we study Scripture closely, we discover that the answer is “No.” To the surprise of many Christians, Scripture clearly states that, although we are commanded to love everyone, including even our enemies, we are not required to forgive everyone.

For example, does Jesus expect us to simply forgive a fellow believer who sins against us? No, He doesn’t. Otherwise, He would not have to told us to follow the four steps to reconciliation outlined in Matthew 18:15-17, steps that end with excommunication if the offender does not repent:

And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.

Obviously, if the fourth step is reached (excommunication), forgiveness is not granted to the offender, as forgiveness and excommunication are incompatible actions. It would seem strange to hear someone say, “We forgave him and then we excommunicated him,” because forgiveness results in reconciliation, not severance. (What would you think if God said, “I forgive you, but I will have nothing to do with you from now on”?) Jesus told us treat the excommunicated person “as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer,” two kinds of people that Jews had no relationships with and actually abhorred.

In the four steps that Jesus outlined, forgiveness is not granted after the first, second or third steps unless the offender repents. If he doesn’t repent after any step, he is taken to the next step, still treated like an unrepentant offender. Only when the offender “listens to you” (that is, repents), can it be said that you “have won your brother” (that is, been reconciled).

The purpose for confrontation is so that forgiveness can be granted. Forgiveness is predicated, however, upon the repentance of the offender. So we (1) confront with the hope that the offender will (2) repent so we can (3) forgive him.

All this being so, we can say with certainty that God does not expect us to simply forgive fellow believers who have sinned against us and who are unrepentant after confrontation. This, of course, does not give us the right to hate an offending believer. On the contrary, we confront because we love the offender and want to forgive him and be reconciled.

Yet once every effort is made for reconciliation by means of the three steps Jesus outlined, the fourth step terminates the relationship in obedience to Christ. [1] Just as we are not to have any fellowship with so-called Christians who are adulterers, drunkards, homosexuals and so on (see 1 Cor. 5:11), we are not to have any fellowship with the so-called Christians who refuse to repent at the consensus of the entire body. Such people prove that they are not true followers of Christ, and they bring a reproach on His church.

[1] It would stand to reason that if the excommunicated one later repented, Jesus would expect that forgiveness would be granted then.