God’s Example

As we further consider our responsibility to forgive others, we might also wonder why God would expect us to do something that He Himself does not do. Certainly God loves guilty people and extends His merciful hands in an offer to pardon them. He withholds His wrath and gives them time to repent. But their actually being forgiven is contingent upon their repentance. God does not forgive guilty people unless they repent. So why should we think that He expects more of us?

All of this being so, is it not possible that the sin of unforgiveness which is so grievous in God’s eyes is specifically the sin of not forgiving those who request our forgiveness? It is interesting that just after Jesus outlined the four steps of church discipline, Peter asked,

“Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22).

Did Peter think that Jesus was expecting him to forgive an unrepentant brother hundreds of times for hundreds of sins when Jesus had just told him moments before to treat an unrepentant brother like a Gentile or tax collector because of one sin? That seems very unlikely. Again, you don’t treat a person as being abhorrent if you’ve forgiven him.

Another question that should provoke our thinking is this: If Jesus expects us to forgive a believer hundreds of times for hundreds of sins of which he never repents, thus maintaining our relationship, why does He allow us to terminate a marriage relationship for only one sin committed against us, the sin of adultery, if our spouse does not repent (see Matt. 5:32)?[1] That would seem rather inconsistent.

[1] If an adulterous spouse is a Christian, we should take that spouse through the three steps Jesus outlined for reconciliation before going through with a divorce. If that adulterous spouse repents, we are expected to forgive according to Jesus’ commandment.