The Lord is Merciful and Gracious: but He Does Not Forgive His Enemies

In this article, I would like to demonstrate the following principle to you from Scripture and then help you apply it to this matter of “forgiving the abuser.” Every victim of abuse, especially Christians, know what it is like to be pushed and prodded with “as a Christian, you are required by God to forgive your abuser.”  Too often this pressure includes the demand that the victim reconcile with the abuser, and it leads to being deceived by the typical false repentance abusers love to claim for themselves.  Here is the principle:

God does not forgive His enemies. He never has, and He never will. As His children in Christ, we are to reflect His character and attributes. Therefore, this has profound implications for how we deal with our enemies, who are also the enemies of the Lord.

First, I can hear someone saying (because this is what popped into my own mind right away too)… “but if God does not forgive His enemies, then none of us can be forgiven, because we were His enemies the moment we entered into this world.  And doesn’t Scripture say,

Rom 5:8  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Notice that these verses do not speak of God forgiving us while we were still sinners, but that Christ died for us when we were in that condition. He loved us when we did not love Him, and the result of that love was that the Father send Christ to be the propitiation (satisfaction of God’s Law) for our sins. Christ died for us when we were still His enemies. But God does not forgive us as long as we are still His enemies, still in rebellion against Him, still haters of His Law, still…. un-repentant and unbelieving. Do you begin to see it?

God does not forgive His enemies. He never has, and He never will. His enemies end in Hell and they will remain there for all eternity. Consider this summary of God’s character, taken from the London Confession of faith (our church’s doctrinal standard which is quite similar to the Westminster Confession of Faith) –

“The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.” 

There it is.  Yes, the Lord is abundant in His forgiveness of iniquity and sin. But what kind of people receive that forgiveness? Those who diligently seek Him. For the rest of mankind, He is most just and terrible in His judgments… He will never clear the guilty.” Never. Not for all eternity, and that is a very long time.

So we need to mark this down carefully. It is being widely denied in what professes to be the Christian church today. We are being told that the Lord is all love, all mercy, all grace, and that He forgives His enemies. That He forgives those who refuse to repent, who refuse to bow before Christ, who continue in their wickedness and in their hatred of Him. He does not. He never has, and He never will. I suspect that most all of our readers need to be reminded of this, and that perhaps as you read these words you are thinking…. “Man!  That is right!  I’ve been pretty fogged up on this whole thing!”

Ok, now, let me put this question before you:

“If God does not forgive His enemies, why would He ask us to forgive our enemies who are also His enemies?”  Indeed, does the Bible say anywhere that we  are required to forgive unrepentant enemies who persist in their evil against us?”

What we DO find in Scripture is the Lord’s instruction to us that we are to do good to our enemies. And I believe that this is what the Lord means when He tells us to love our enemies:

Matthew 5:43-48  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Rom 12:20-21  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God loves His enemies in the sense of showing them common grace. He does good to them, though they do not deserve it. We are to reflect His character by doing good to our enemies and even praying for them, desiring their salvation. But this is not the same thing as forgiving them. Consider a few more Scriptures in relation to this:

Mat 6:14-15  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Mar 11:25  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

Notice that the “others” here, the ones we are to forgive, are often interpreted to be all-inclusive, including un-repentant enemies of the Lord and of us. But in light of other Scriptures that indicate that God Himself does not forgive unrepentant enemies, it would seem that we go too far in applying these words to enemies. Is it not more likely that these “others” whom we are to forgive are our brethren — people who have repented and asked for forgiveness?  To refuse to forgive such a person as that would indeed warrant the warning, “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Here is another pertinent Scripture:

Joh 20:23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.

Here, the Apostle John recounts Jesus’ words as He granted the apostles His authority. Of course, the authority was not inherent in them, but in His Word He had given them. They forgive and withhold forgiveness according to Christ’s Word, not because they felt generous one day and mean the next! We do the same thing as Christians today. We measure with the Word of God and if someone is repentant and believing, we know by that standard that they are forgiven. If they are hardened and unrepentant, then we know they are not forgiven. But the point I wanted to emphasize here is that there are people whom God does not forgive. Furthermore, there are people that we withhold forgiveness from as well. ALWAYS because of the standard of Scripture, not because we happen to like one guy better than another!

And then there is this passage:

Col 3:13  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Notice once more that this forgiving spoken of here is that which is directed to “one another,” meaning of course brothers and sisters in Christ. Again, the “one another” is not a universal phrase for all human beings, including enemies.

Alright, now to bring this all in for a landing. My theory is this: that much of the conflict and intense anxiety experienced by victims of abuse over this whole matter of forgiveness is unnecessary, and it results from a misunderstanding of biblical forgiveness which is promoted by false teaching in the church. We are required by the Lord to treat the unrepentant enemies of the Lord as He treats them. We are not to seek personal vengeance upon them, but to leave that vengeance to the Lord. We are to do good to our enemy if we find him hungry or in some other condition of need. This is what Christ did, as we read in the Gospels. But pronounce them absolved and no longer in danger of God’s judgment while they remain unrepentant? No way.  Therefore, I conclude that it is un-scriptural to teach people that they must forgive their enemy, even though it is evident that the enemy is not repentant and is, in fact, persisting in his evil. God does not do so, and neither should we.  In fact, I will state it more strongly — God cannot forgive the unrepentant evil man, and neither can we.

22 thoughts on “The Lord is Merciful and Gracious: but He Does Not Forgive His Enemies

  1. Z

    Thank you Pastor. I’m very clear on the conditions for God and us to forgive His enemies and ours after your excellent posts and Scripture references on that subject.
    I do have some conflicting feelings and thoughts about “doing good” to our and God’s enemies when they are in need.
    By necessity for my safety, I’ve gone fully and permanently No Contact with my physically violent (and many other kinds of abuses) abusive family. Before that, I’d gone No Contact with them for long periods after abuses. Many months and even years. Each time the usual “Hoovering”/false apologies, crocodile tears and promises to change started. All attempts to reel me back into the abuse cycle. I resisted because NO evidence of any behavioral change/fruits of repentance were seen.
    But one time they begged for an end to the No Contact because two of them were seriously sick. They “wanted my help” they said. There were many others, allies and enablers of their abuses, who could have helped them. But they insisted it be me because of my “special skill set”. As a Christian, I thought I HAD to agree to end the No Contact and help them. “Common grace”.
    But what really happened was I had given them ACCESS to me again to ABUSE me again! That’s the whole point of No Contact-eliminating ALL their access to you after they’ve shown themselves to be a danger to one’s safety. And that what they did again. Abused me once they had the access I’d put a stop to previously.
    My question is whether it would have been Biblically correct for me to refuse to rescind my No Contact policy to show them “common grace” when they were in need? Could I have left it to someone else to meet their needs? Then I would have remained safe from them! But I allowed them the access to me that they so wanted again and they used it to abuse and harm me AGAIN! Then I made my No Contact permanent. Which means no matter what, no interaction with them. Is that a violation of God’s command for “common grace”? No Contact is what is keeping me physically and mentally safe from predators. As it is meant to.
    Can you speak to this dilemma I faced?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jeff Crippen

      Permanent no contact to the unrepentant is the correct method. Common grace has more to do with finding our enemy bleeding in a car wreck and rendering first aid. Your abusers could have sought help from many different sources. We don’t need to go to his house when the devil pleads with us to come and help him. So it is with this kind you are dealing with.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. TJ

      One blogger I read who had suffered from an abusive family wrote a post that I found interesting. She said that if, for example, her Mom was in the hospital but had others to help her, she didn’t feel obligated to help her since she had help from other sources. If her Mom had no one to help her, she would help her (do good to her) but her help didn’t have to mean putting herself in a position to get abused through personal interaction or relationship. Help could look like calling the doctors, the hospital, or nursing home staff to make sure she was being given care.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. starlight

    Thank you Pastor Jeff for shedding light on this. Any advice in general for us on how to maintain no contact and how to view this God’s way where children are involved esp when legislation allows for abuser to pursue contact in terms of father’s/ parental rights even in horrendously obvious cases?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Z

        Thank you Starlight for your kind words. Glad they were helpful to you. It took a great deal of agonizing and studying the Bible and asking trusted Bible teachers about Biblical forgiveness vs the wrong & false teaching that kept me in bondage and in further danger from my abusers. I’m so glad I have been made free by the truth! No more false guilt here!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. walkinginlight

    If it was not for Pastor Crippen clearing this topic up with the correct application of scripture, the abusers would have manipulated me back into the spiders web and would have laid a huge guilt trip on me. Also around fifteen years ago, I went through a nightmare with a devil in disguise at church. I wrote about it here in other posts. This woman was so dripping in evil (disguised) that my pastor was afraid to even visit her in her hospital room! I managed to break free of her suffocating evil grip on me with the strength of the Lord. Some of the others at church were watching me closely to see how I handled this and set me up to deliver her a home cooked meal on a Wednesday night before bible study at church. Concerning any feelings of feeling guilty for distancing myself from her, the Lord specifically gave me this scripture in Proverbs 22:3 THE PRUDENT SEES THE EVIL AND HIDES HIMSELF, BUT THE NAIVE GO ON, AND ARE PUNISHED FOR IT. So, I knew it was alright to keep my distance and not be manipulated to keep company with her! (but I still wondered about the forgiveness thing) I delivered her dinner and even kissed her on the cheek when I left as she was ill laying in her recliner. That was the last time I ever saw her. Her husband had gotten orders to “sin city” in Las Vegas and I heard she had passed away a year later.

    After Pastor Crippen’s sermons and that of my Christian counselor, I now have no guilt about now being “best buds” with a unrepentant person. No fruits of repentance and no access to me, period.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Z

      Thank you Walkinginlight for the additional Scripture reference of Proverbs 23:3-“The prudent see the evil and hides himself. But the naive go on and are punished for it.” I missed that one, which could have helped me avoid the “forgiveness trap” which did cause me to be endangered and harmed for not hiding myself from known evil people.
      I think there are just some people whose LEVEL of evil and danger behooves is to HIDE OURSELVES even from any “common grace” access to us. I could not safely tend to my abusers’ wounds if they were on the side of the road injured. They’d lash out like vipers and inject their venom into me again! And then they’d falsely accuse me of some kind of crime or of causing their injuries! They’ve already done it. With people of this nature, Proverb 23:3 is the wisest course of action. God understands.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Natalie

    I am struggling with the person who claims to be Christian, yet continually sins against me (lies, has stolen, is disloyal, gaslights, etc) yet “apologizes” when I cut off contact, only to creep back in and overstep my boundaries.

    I am struggling because this person, whom I have known and loved since I was 10 years old (38 years ago) claims to love me and to be struggling with his own abuse from childhood and the resultant relationship problems that have come with that abuse. I lived alongside him as a friend while he was severely abused in every way, even abandoned by his mother to be homeless at age 12. She never provided for him again. He lived with my family off and on. I know what he suffered, I have seen the scars in his flesh, and there are many.

    He acts SO contrite and even fully confesses and cries when he gets caught up in his lies, but there is never any change in behavior. He says he is to blame and it is completely his fault and that he wants to do better. I have forgiven not 7 times, but 7 times 70, at least.

    Now I am just angry and resentful towards him. I just feel so MAD that he won’t apply the scriptures he quotes. That he won’t overcome his “struggles” and actually make the actions that match his contrite words. I do not want to NOT forgive him. I love him as a brother and always have, but he takes advantage of me all the time.

    I feel such love for this person, yet so much anger and even hatred at times towards him. Is he really my enemy? Is he evil or just damaged, like so many of us?

    What makes someone our enemy?

    Does God refuse to forgive the severely damaged because they go around doing damage?

    And yet, I, too, bear scars in my flesh and deeper ones in my spirit. Yet, I am careful of my words and actions. I try very hard not to damage others. I repent and am correctable. Being abused does not give the excuse to abuse others.

    How do we know if the other person really understands that their behavior is abusive? When are we judging unjustly the heart of another verses really discerning that they are our enemy?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jeff Crippen

      Natalie – The Lord always forgives the genuinely repentant. Always. But this fellow is not repentant and never has been as his choice of walking in sin evidences. Human beings are culpable. They know when they sin. See Romans 1 on this. They know, but they choose to sin anyway. You are not wrongly judging this fellow’s heart – you are judging his actions which reveal his heart. “You shall know them by their fruit.” All of his supposed repentance is false. He is in fact not to be pitied, but is a person who has become quite skilled in deviousness. All abusers abuse in a cycle. And part of that cycle is the setup phase in which they sucker you in for the next attack. That is what he is doing when he seems so contrite and nice. Setting you up. None of his past life can be used as an excuse. The Lord will not accept his excuses. His sin is his own and is what he freely chooses. He is using you because he enjoys abusing you. The most loving action you can take toward him is to go no contact with him and tell him very plainly why you are doing so.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Natalie

        Thank you, Jeff.

        As usual, you are right, and wise in counsel. I hate losing people. I hate letting go. I lost my whole family of origin, as they just could not break the cycle of abuse and I had to go no contact. I lost my 2 decade long marriage, as he admitted he liked the abuse and never planned to stop; then proved it by trying to kill me.

        Even though it took surgery to repair the damage he did, I lost every friend, except 2, and my church because I divorced and was called a “jezebel” and a rebellious heart.

        I find that very few people remain in my life, as I grow healthier and move away from the legalism that trapped my spirit for so many decades. Loss never grows easier.

        But all 11 of my children are close to my heart and we are true friends, honest and loving to each other, so grateful for that.

        One last question…Is it SINFUL that I feel SO very sorry for people that abuse me?

        I feel so much compassion for them. I just know that God does not make junk and somewhere inside that toxic person there could be a wonderful person. I just want them to do right and be okay, but most of the time, they will not.

        Am I a fool (in the Biblical sense)? I want to learn and have true wisdom, if I am a fool regarding people I love, then I need to get that fixed.

        Thank you, Jeff.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. starlight

    Pastor Jeff,
    Further to my comment, in the midst of one right now, but not able to say much due to safety.
    Please keep us in prayer that our no contact is preserved and we won’t be coerced to compromise on this or make a deal about this because not only is it about father’s rights but children’s interest have to be taken into account and for boldness and favor to stand our ground.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Alison

    John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

    Pastor Crippen, I brought this very scripture to the attention of some longtime spiritual friends who then attacked me as an unforgiving spouse. My husband was trapped in porn for 46 years, and I tried everything I knew to help him out of it. To Natalie’s post above, I finally came to the conclusion — or should I say, REVELATION — that if the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict us of sin, and someone’s not being convicted, MAYBE the Holy Spirit’s not THERE!
    My husband was not a Christian — he was just a cultural Christian. It’s easy to feign Christianity and the gifts of the Spirit. We should be growing from glory to glory with a progression in our relationship with Him. If after ample time, someone doesn’t have any power to overcome or change, the Church must ask tougher questions like, “Do you really know Him?”
    Unbelievably, the friends who had walked with me through 18 years of adultery (of 24 years total), believed the lies, and I had to sever ties with them. He succeeded in poisoning my friends whom I had fellowshipped with and been like part of their family, and it was a most hurtful end. However, the Lord’s hand was in it. They sincerely wanted to help, but unless you have walked this walk, you cannot fathom the far reaching consequences. Particularly pornography where there’s no black eye or smoking gun. And then, of course, they believe the World Class Liars!

    I also argued this point with them.
    “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.” Luke 17:3-4. All I got was more labels. Funny, no one could comment on the verse in John about forgiveness withheld. Menu theology! You’re the only other person I’ve ever seen bring it to light, but this needs to be at the forefront of our theology. Why would God ask US to do something even HE won’t do??? Like forgive someone who is unrepentant????
    Natalie, the most loving thing you can do is confront that person’s “Christianity.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jeff Crippen

      Alison – Thank you for this. It is real wisdom from the Lord. You’re experience and lessons learned parallel mine and so many others here. I have had those same kind of long time friends whose lives I shared in and whose families I ministered to for years, turn away rather than follow where Christ’s truth leads. I really can identify with Paul, as I am sure you can, when he said that many who once followed the Lord with him are no longer doing so. It can be a painful and lonely road. Your term “menu theology” is perfect. I have called the same kind of pick and choose religion “Bible smorgasbord or buffet.” Thank you again for your insight here which you were taught through difficult times.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Natalie

      Thank you, Alison, for sharing this.

      I, too, lost all my church friends for forcing out my abusive husband and divorcing him. They came to my home to “correct me” in love, of course. (sarcasm) They were very harsh with me. Then they just became downright mean and gossiped about me to my children, hoping to recruit the children in turning my “hard heart”, of course. This was very harmful to my children. It did turn my kid’s hearts, but not against me, as they supposed it would. My children lost all their friends and are afraid to go back to church. My adult children are very angry at “church people” after they watched their mother attacked by the church.

      You are right, Alison, I must allow God to help me through another loss and go no contact with this friend. I have confronted him using scripture, over and over, for years. He will not respond to the Holy Spirit with real change.

      Thanks, Alison. It is nice to have friends on here to help sort all this out.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jeff Crippen

        Natalie – you are not a fool. Fools don’t seek the Lord’s wisdom. You are growing wiser and you desire to grow in the Lord’s wisdom. I can give you a tip regarding a lesson I had to learn though. When I was first a pastor I became friends with a fellow way up in the mountains of Montana. He was a kind of mountain man and one day after a snow storm in very cold weather I went to his cabin and found him working on his old wreck of a car out in the snow. I had a few extra dollars and told him I would take him to town and we could maybe find him another car, which we did. After some time went by another friend told me, “Jeff, you care more about that guy than he cares about himself.” That insight hit home with me. It was true.

        In regard to the people you are feeling compassion for that you mention here, I would suggest that your feelings for/about them are feelings that they should be having within themselves – they should be seeing that they are on the road to hell themselves, but they don’t care.

        You said, “I just know that God does not make junk and somewhere inside that toxic person there could be a wonderful person.” This would be a view that requires some of the Lord’s wisdom to “tweak.” God did create man in his image, but man rebelled, sinned, and is a fallen creature enslaved to sin and with an evil heart that hates God and hates His Word. Man in his sin by his choice became junk. The place you hope might exist inside these people that is a wonderful person, doesn’t exist. I like to call that Star Wars theology – that somewhere inside Darth Vader there is good. It is fiction. Man is thoroughly fallen in his sin. So what these evil people do is to work and play on your sympathy, tricking you into feeling sorry for them when in fact they have no intention of having any remorse over themselves. It probably will help you immensely if you realize that these things they say and do toward you that elicit your sympathy for them are in fact evil manipulations on their part to continue to oppress you.

        Many blessings to you. You are growing.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Alison

    The same thing happened to me as friends tried to take ownership of my children, and turn my son and daughter against me. They scared my daughter and told her she was “unsafe” in our home because of ME! Fortunately, God turned it around after extensive damage had been done.

    It’s a common theme these days: Dad traumatizes mom, then when mom can no longer hold it together, he drives her to hysteria in front of her kids and then blames her. The sinning husband tells the whole story BACKWARDS, so friends don’t recognize the genesis of the abuse, and then everyone looks at the messy traumatized woman who is not behaving right, and blames HER. Oh, and they always call her “crazy” and say she needs to be in a mental hospital, while he sits there calm, cool, and disassociated from everything he’s created! The kids call her crazy, too, parroting Dad.

    I’ve done extensive research on this, and living in chronic “fight or flight” due to the norepinephrine / epinephrine hormone baths is very serious to the nervous system, the heart, the brain, the endocrine system, the blood pressure and really all body systems. It causes a type of damage in the frontal cortex of the brain where your executive function is — self control, ability to plan, etc. I would sit down in a blank stare at my computer, unable to think. I finally went into a catatonic state for six weeks with dangerously low blood pressure and heart rate which was critical.

    This is nothing to play around with. Those high levels of chemicals released in the body cause all kinds of health issues, and if it weren’t for the Lord healing me, I feel certain I would have been very sick from the psychological abuse, a broken heart, and the terror as if I were a hunted animal. All while trying to maintain a foundation in my home for my children that felt much like a bounce house floor.
    We need to get information out there to women and to the CHURCH. This HAS to stop!!!

    HELP US, LORD!!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jeff Crippen

      This is important and vital stuff. Thank you. There is a real cost to remaining with an abuser and therefore these evil “counselors” who are ordering victims to stay in the abuse/marriage are actually killing her. They are guilty, guilty, guilty.

      Also, most abuse victims/survivors I know suffer from serious health issues.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. TJ

    I’ve been seeing a lot of a meme being shared at Facebook that says, “Forgive the inexcusable in others because God forgives the inexcusable in you.” Nothing is said about repentance being necessary, boundaries, or escaping from evil people. It sickens me. Romans 1 says that wicked people have no excuse so God gives them up to the vileness of their hearts and to their worthless way of thinking (among other things).

    Liked by 1 person

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