If someone continually sins against you and does not repent, are we still to forgive? I know we are not to take revenge, but doesn’t forgiveness require repentance?
First let’s answer how many times you, as a Christian are required to forgive:
As a practical point, let me ask you, how many times has the Lord forgiven you? Do you want Him to have a set number, then you’re out of luck? Or do hope that He is merciful and patient and forgives you as often as you need it?
Now to the Bible:
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (NKJV)
Was Jesus actually saying “490 times, that’s it?” And then at 491, you can get hold your grudge and tell’em “too bad, so sad!”? Let’s hope not, because I can guarantee you anyone reading this has sinned against Jesus more than 490 times!
No, the Lord was NOT giving a set, legalistic number. He was figuatively saying “as many times as it takes”. There are many Biblical examples that say we must forgive as much as necessary, so we won’t beg that point.
Next question: does the other person have to be repentant? I cannot find Biblical support for the notion. It appears that we are to have a forgiving spirit regardless of any response or attitude from the offender.
Remember, forgiveness is as much for the VICTIM as it is the offender. Forgiveness shows your gratitude to God for forgiving you (Matt 18.21-35). God has forgiven us much, we in turn should freely grant forgiveness to others. Forgiveness brings you peace no matter how the other person acts. Forgiveness is obedience in action.
Of course we hope for a repentant attitude from the offender simply because we know that they cannot be right with God if they are not contrite. But we want their repentant attitude based on a selfless reason: we simply care about the state of the other persons soul and walk with God.
Our greatest example would be Jesus himself. The people who crucified Him had tried to make His life miserable from day one of His earthly ministry. The accused Him of working for Satan; called Him names; tried to kill him. Ultimately they murdered him without so much as a hint of repentance… but Jesus said “forgive them Father”. (Lk 23.34) If anyone had a right to say “they don’t deserve forgiveness!” it was Jesus. But He left us with a clear example to follow.
Finally, let me toss in an intuition: if a person asks if they HAVE to forgive someone; ie, are they required to… I’m going to urge that person to consider that they personally probably have some unforgiveness and bitterness to deal with down deep inside.
People who have a forgiving spirit, and are free of grudges and bitterness, don’t wonder whether or not they are “required” to forgive others. Or, possibly the person who asks this question has not considered all that God has forgiven them for. Or they simply may be untaught about the subject.
Either way, some self examination is in order, because they question reveals a lack of understanding of forgiveness, or some root of bitterness that needs to be confessed.
That last part is my own opinion, not a Biblical position. To close, I don’t read any requirement of repentance from the offender in this command from the Lord:
Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (NKJV)
Further thoughts from reader comments:
God was patient towards Israel for 490 years before punishing them. 490 years was “Seven Seventies”.
In Scripture, the number 7 is always the number of perfection and 10 is the number of completion. So “seven times seventy” or “seven seventies” always refers to complete perfection.
So when Jesus spoke in Matthew 18:21-22, He was saying that we are to forgive the perfect completeness of God.
Thanks to JDP and CR for reminding me of those points….