We continue with our friend’s very helpful essay on forgiveness – what it really is, who actually forgives, and just what forgiveness requires. As you know, this is a subject which is so often twisted and misapplied, to the enablement of the wicked and the detriment of the oppressed. Many thanks once more to our sister in Christ:
The reason for the need for forgiveness is obviously guilt resulting from our rebellion. This tells us something that’s key here and which has an impact on the meaning and necessity for forgiveness. Sin puts a breach in relationships — which is why relationships get awkward when we are sinned against. Our sin against God cuts off our fellowship with God. In His justice, He must punish us, unless He has a way of forgiving us. But even then He must still hold His justice, which means someone has to be punished in our stead. There’s no way around this. Genuine forgiveness addresses genuine guilt. It is only because of Christ that God can be just and at the same time the justifier – of the one who has faith in Jesus.
If God cannot leave guilt unaddressed, then neither should we when we forgive. The guilty person needs forgiveness because he’s guilty. God does not forgive in a vacuum or because He “needs to heal”.
God has no need to forgive in order to feel better about Himself.
The guilty person needs something here. God’s forgiveness is for the sake of the offender – it is not self-focused on the part of the one who forgives.
The goal for forgiveness is “let [the sinner] return to the Lord”. So the ultimate purpose for forgiveness is restoration of the formerly broken relationship, or reconciliation, through repentance and justice being met.. While forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation, it is two sides of the same coin, just like faith and repentance are not the same, but you can’t have one without the other. This is something that gets tricky in human relationships, (because we can’t change people the way God can) but from God’s standpoint, when God forgives someone He also reconciles with that person. This does not mean that we need to reconcile with unsafe people. This raises the bar for what forgiveness should look like, but this also raises the bar for how we ought to deal with sin. If we take sin lightly, we will treat forgiveness lightly.
Which is why…another aspect we see in God’s forgiveness… is the prerequisite for it that must be met. The guilty person must forsake his sin, and return to the Lord. Repentance is a prerequisite, and especially genuine repentance, for that matter. We can’t fake it with God. There are no exceptions to this. Every single person who repents, God forgives, and essentially becomes a Christian. Every single person who does not repent ends up in hell, forever unforgiven. So the more correct way to say it is: when God forgives a sinner He reconciles with a CHANGED person.
God does reconciles with His FORMER enemy—but he’s an enemy no longer— and never with an unrepentant sinner. It’s repentance that makes forgiveness possible and that CHANGE of heart that makes reconciliation possible.