Must My Brother Repent Before I Forgive Him?

As a Bible teacher, I’ve heard this question many times: can a person actually forgive if the offender is not repentant? Should Sally wait for her husband to meekly ask for forgiveness before she forgives him? Can Ben go ahead and extend forgiveness to his boss who repeatedly disrespects him and often abuses his time and talent?

Does Jesus forgive only when a person repents?

Forgiveness differs from reconciliation. We sometimes confuse the two.

For instance, from the cross Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” His statement did not result in reconciliation, but it did reveal His compassionate and forgiving heart towards His most bitter enemies.

Jesus also taught an assertive forgiveness. Check out Mark 11.25:

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

Jesus does not command us to hunt down our brother and demand an apology first. Just forgive. How? In this context, it seems we should have a heart–an attitude–of forgiveness. It’s not necessarily saying the words, “I forgive you,” to the person, but it’s a willingness to absorb the cost and the hurt, put it away, and let it go. Isn’t that what God does for us?

Also consider Luke 15.20 in the parable of the prodigal son:

“So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

The father didn’t ask for a full confession. In fact, he acted so quickly the son didn’t have time to speak before his dad was crushing him in an embrace and kissing his face. He then tried to tell his dad how he would pay him back and how he didn’t deserve to be called a son, but again the father cut him off, reinstated him as a son, and totally accepted him back. Obviously, the father forgave his son even before his son demonstrated repentance!

Reconciliation is only possible when both parties act properly–one repents and the other forgives. Sometimes one person repents but the one who was wronged will not forgive. No reconciliation. In other cases, one person forgives from the heart but the other refuses to apologize and repent. No reconciliation.

But notice that forgiveness is not necessarily dependent upon the other person’s repentance. God expects us to forgive those who sin against us. Period. Just how we can do that is a subject for another article, but suffice it to say it’s simply not possible to forgive completely without an internal power that most humans don’t possess.

So don’t wait for your brother or sister to come crawling, contrite and crushed. They may never repent. God wants you to always have a heart of forgiveness, ready to accept back the moment your brother heads your way.

It’s difficult, yes. But it’s so freeing! Discipline yourself to forgive.

Is Jesus Your Personal Savior?

Jesus Crown of ThornsIn The Message, which is an interpretation of the Bible and not an actual translation (so read it with great caution!), the introduction to Galatians includes the following:

Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary includes under its entry for “Logos”:

In relation to humanity, Jesus the Logos was not the impersonal principle of Stoicism, but He was a personal Savior who took on human flesh in the incarnation (John 1:4–14).

Most of the evangelical world employs this phrase. Perhaps “Are you a born again Christian?” (isn’t that redundant?) is even more popular, but “Have you made Jesus your own personal Savior?”* definitely competes.

Can we claim Jesus as our own “personal Savior”?

In the BeginningI understand personal in the relational sense–that Jesus saves me personally; He and I share a personal relationship. The alternative to this personal relationship, I suppose, would be a relationship only between Jesus and His body, the church, which does not somehow translate into a relationship between Him and each individual.

What does the Bible teach on this?

Truly, you cannot find those exact words–“personal Savior”–in the Bible. But what about the concept? As I consider the question, my thoughts are immediately drawn to two of the most God-fearing and God-loving men in the Bible, one who lived under the Old Covenant and one under the New: David and Paul.

David

David wrote of his relationship with God, even as his Savior, in the Psalms.

I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18.1-2)

I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. (Ps. 3.4)

Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation! (Ps. 38.21-22)

Jesus Holding MeCan you feel the sense of a personal relationship in David’s words? Yahweh was not just the God of Israel; He was David’s God! There is something comforting and empowering in this relationship, because the relationship does not depend upon the state of anyone else in the world–it’s directly between a man and his God.

Paul

Paul also helps us understand the nature of our relationship with Jesus the Savior.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2.20)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil. 3.12)

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1.12-14)

You

Can you say Jesus is your personal Savior? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? I dearly hope you do! It is the single most important relationship any human being can have–and you either are His or you aren’t.

Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts and comments–I’d love to hear them.


* I DO have a problem with that statement, but it’s not with the “personal Savior” bit–it’s with the “have YOU made” bit. Nobody makes Jesus to be his or her Savior. More appropriately and biblically, they should ask, “Has Jesus saved you?” or “Have you been saved by Jesus?”