After last week’s sermon on Psalm 109 (Vengeance Belongs to the Lord), I received this question via e-mail.
In yesterday's sermon you said that we didn't have to forgive others unless they were repentant. I was wondering where in the Bible that comes from. I know of many verses that tell us to forgive, but don't know of any that say we shouldn't.
Here was my response.
Good question. I didn’t have time to fill out all the details in yesterday’s message.
Of course, we are always supposed to forgive in the sense of not holding a grudge, wishing someone ill, or trying to get even. We are to let it go so that we are not churning inside because of an offense. We trust God to take care of things. However, Luke 17:3-4 tells us to forgive our brother if he comes to us and says “I repent.” The implication is that until he repents it is premature to extend full forgiveness. God does not forgive the unrepentant, and we cannot be fully reconciled to people who refuse to repent. We can be kind to them. We can love and pray for them, but if we prematurely say to them, I forgive you, then they assume everything is OK without having to face up to their sin. This is ultimately harmful to them. The same thing is implied in the process for church discipline in Matthew 18:15-18. If the offender does not listen, he is not forgiven, but taken to task by the church.
These situations obviously envision a very serious offense, not the ordinary kinds of things that we ought in charity simply to overlook.