Should I Forgive Someone Who is Not Repentant?

By | January 11, 2014

handshakeIs forgiveness conditioned on repentance? In other words, would you be a softy for forgiving someone who shows no remorse for his wrong doing and offers no signs of repentance? Perhaps your offender doesn’t even know he did anything wrong and is oblivious to his actions, or even worse, perhaps he adamantly insists that he has done no wrong and refuses to change his behavior. Are you still called to forgive?

Here it may be helpful to offer a definition of human forgiveness. According to Chris Brauns, human forgiveness is “a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.”

Ken Sande, in his book, The Peacemaker, explains that forgiveness can be approached as a two-stage process. “The first stage requires having an attitude of forgiveness, and the second, granting forgiveness. Having an attitude of forgiveness is unconditional and is a commitment you make to God.” (Sande, p.210-211.) Sande goes on to explain: “Granting forgiveness however is conditional on the repentance of the offender and takes place between you and that person.” You might also distinguish these two stages as “positional” and “transactional” forgiveness.

Consider the example Jesus set for us at his crucifixion. In , Jesus demonstrated an attitude of forgiveness when he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This prayer was unconditional on their repentance and shows us how Jesus remained unstained from bitterness and resentment, perfectly obeying the will of his Father (). An attitude of forgiveness is a commitment we make to God.

It has been said that unforgiveness and bitterness is the poison pill a person eats, hoping to kill his offender. On the contrary, having an attitude of forgiveness means that we can leave justice to God. We can entrust our souls to a faithful creator, while doing good (). We know that God is just and that nothing escapes his eyes (), even if it escapes the mind of our offender. We can focus on returning evil with good ().

Ligon Duncan says this:

“There may be circumstances where a reconciliation is impossible, but a readiness to reconcile can still be present with a believer. … Instead of telling them that they need to forgive or they will become bitter, I think I would rather say that you need to be ready to forgive and not to be captured by your bitterness.”

Jay Adams explains:

“You are not obligated to forgive an unrepentant sinner, but you are obligated to try to bring him to repentance.  All the while you must entertain a genuine hope and willingness to forgive the other and a desire to be reconciled to him or her.”

Until you are ready to pray the way Jesus did at the cross, you will not be ready to give the grace necessary to call your offender to repentance. The next time you face a conflict, ask yourself: will I resist the poison pill of unforgiveness and follow the example of Jesus, or will I pull a Jonah, resisting the call to help sinners repent?

When I believe that my offender can repent because of the power of the gospel, I will be ready to demonstrate true love to my offender and breathe grace to them by calling them to repentance. Love would dictate that there are certain sins that should not be overlooked and left unspoken. Before any of us go on a confrontation spree, it would be wise for us to consider how we’ve sinned and contributed to a conflict before confronting a brother () and also think through what speaking the truth in love looks like. Let us be full of grace and truth.

Granting forgiveness, a.k.a transactional forgiveness, addresses the horizontal dimension of human sin and needs to take place for reconciliation to happen. Sin doesn’t happen in a vacuum, rather sin affects others. When a sin can not be overlooked, until an offender repents, a relationship will not look the same. But let us be ready to be reconciled, instead of writing off relationships! says it this way: “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” 

Surrendering our will to God means that in times when we would rather run from conflict we will believe in the power of the gospel and be willing to confront a brother to preserve the purity and peace of the church. ff, explains the escalation process. In a healthy church, church leaders will understand that accountability and church discipline is an act of love. Surrendering to God also means that we understand that we can’t control the results () and reconciliation will progress on God’s time table ().  

We will also understand our obligations. Judy Dabler, a Christian conciliator, teaches that we are not responsible “for” each other, but rather “to” each other. We are however responsible “for” ourselves. I should ask myself, “Am I ready to grant forgiveness to my offender if he confesses his sin to me and asks me for forgiveness?”

Will you believe in the power of the gospel to change you and those who have offended you? The gospel is our dynamite. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” – .

photo credit: Richard.Asia via photopin cc


34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (ESV)


And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
(ESV)


19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (ESV)


13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (ESV)


17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (ESV)


42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (ESV)


Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (ESV)


15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (ESV)


What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (ESV)


18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV)


16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (ESV)