A.B. Candeday: “Being forgiving doesn’t always mean being forgiving”

Chris —  April 15, 2010

One of the distinctions I made in Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds was that while we should always have an attitude of forgiveness, this doesn’t mean that we should always forgive.  A discussion has been taking place over at the Desiring God blog about this very point.  A.B. Caneday is quoted as saying:

If we tell others, "I forgive your sin" even though they refuse to acknowledge their sin, we remove the very incentive the gospel places upon them to confess their sins and to seek forgiveness. If we take preemptive action by granting forgiveness of sin to those who do not repent, on what basis could the church ever follow the procedures of Matthew 18:15-17?

There is a proper biblical or gospel order. We are to imitate God. God forgives the sins of those who repent (cf. 1 John 1:9). Likewise, we must always grant forgiveness to those who repent (cf. Luke 17:3).

In Mark 11:25 Jesus calls us to be forgiving. Scripture requires us to distinguish between being forgiving, which is the virtue of always being ready and eager to forgive, and the act of forgiving, which is the actual remission of the sin done against us. Thus, as God is always forgiving, which means that he is eager and desirous to forgive, and as God forgives those who repent, so godliness/Christlikeness is to be and to do the same.

Here to read more.

You can read Caneday’s article, A Biblical Primer and Grammar on Forgiveness of Sin.

See also, others on conditional forgiveness and, Didn’t Jesus pray, “Father forgive them.”

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12 responses to A.B. Candeday: “Being forgiving doesn’t always mean being forgiving”

  1. Chris – I’m very much aligned with the conclusion but I struggle with the choice of words. I do not see the value of saying we should have an attitude of forgiveness given folks are confusing that with forgiving. Why aren’t we simply saying we should be gracious, kind, loving, … fruit of the Spirit, Christ-like, whatever words … “attitude of forgiveness” is not incorrect but fuels the inherent confusion and for me it seems easier to simply avoid saying that phrase.

  2. Rick – – you may be right that this fuels the confusion. It’s a legitimate concern on your part. I’ve taught on this so many times now that I tend to really measure my words in anticipation of the objections that arise. . .

    Again – – a very sound observation on your part. In such a concise statement, it may well fuel confusion. Ah . . . such a challenge to express ourselves.

  3. Thanks for this, Chris.
    FYI: Interesting discussion in seeking to apply “unconditional forgiveness” in the Criminal Justice system @ http://groansfromwithin.com/2010/04/12/restorative-justice-what-does-that-mean/.

  4. I believe we are always called to ‘forgive’ from the heart in the most important sense of wanting retribution or payback for the debt/wrong done to US (not to God, the community, consequences, etc.). Calvin also believes that we are ALWAYS called to forgive from the heart, and distinguishes the use of the word ‘forgive’ in Lk 17 in his commentary on that section (the only place of several where it says “if your brother repents” and is silent on what if he does not repent) in the 2nd more limited sense/use/definition of the word (and less common sense of the word in both Scripture and common usage) we are called to forgive so long as the offender repents, not holding it against them. Here is the quote:

    “…there are two ways in which offenses are forgiven. If a man shall do me an injury, and I, laying aside the desire of revenge, do not cease to love him, but even repay kindness in place of injury, though I entertain an unfavorable opinion of him, as he deserves, still I am said to forgive him. For when God commands us to wish well to our enemies, He does not therefore demand that we approve in them what He condemns, but only desires that our minds shall be purified from all hatred. In this kind of pardon, (MY NOTE: CALVIN HERE USES PARDON AS ANOTHER WORD FOR FORGIVENESS OF THE UNREPENTANT) so far are we from having any right to wait till he who has offended shall return of his own accord to be reconciled to us, that we ought to love those who deliberately provoke us, who spurn reconciliation, and add to the load of former offenses. A SECOND kind of forgiving is, when we receive a brother into favor, so as to think favorably respecting him, and to be convinced that the remembrance of his offense is blotted out in the sight of God…” Just because forgiveness has reconciliation as its goal does not mean that the definition of ‘forgive’ should be collapsed into what reconciliation is, nor that we are commanded to forgive only when repentance has happened. This is logically inconsistent with the command to overcome evil with blessing and good toward even enemies, is inconsistent with God’s waiting for us chronologically to repent before forgiving for 99% of our sins, and inconsistent with a view of the Greek word apheimi which at its root is a releasing, as in the releasing of a debt for which we desire/seek repayment.

    This deepest sense of forgiving, from the heart, is what forgiveness is that I believe is ALWAYS the biblical calling even of hardened unrepentant enemies though outwardly we may need to demand many consequences (the SECOND, and not ultimate type according to Calvin), because of the offense to include not trusting them, lessening our opinion of them, seeking proper this-worldly punishment for them in ecclesiastical/criminal courts, etc. The teaching you list only provides dangerous warrant to many to say “I don’t need to forgive that person because they have not repented… I don’t need to forgive my wife because she has not GENUINELY repented… etc. etc. etc.” Not biblical, not wise, not the foundation of God’s forgiveness who did not and does not wait for our repentance on 99% of our sins in thought word and deed (he’d be waiting forever in this life). I AM forgiven for all the sins that don’t even come to conciousness, let alone come to some semi-adequate level of grief and change of mind over them hour after hour day after day offense after offense.

    I agree with Piper who said in his sermon that while the “full work” of forgiveness is thwarted when the recipient is unrepentant (I think full AIM or GOAL of forgiveness would have been a better choice of words, as he is probably influenced by Jay Adams and Ken Sande’s thoughts who are led to say don’t ‘forgive’ the unrepentant and I agree with them in terms of a FULL releasing of all consequences, which is not what forgiveness is), Piper says…
    “”We can still lay down our ill will; we can hand over our anger to God; we can seek to do him good; but we cannot carry through reconciliation or intimacy. Thomas Watson said something very jolting:We are not bound to trust an enemy; but we are bound to forgive him. (Body of Divinity, p. 581) “”

    Calvin is right. I beg you to reconsider your position on this and search the Scriptures, as you would have much influence if you changed your mind. If I am right, it is a very dangerous thing many of our best Reformed leader/thinkers in consensus have done in giving unbiblical excuse to many of our brightest in the evangelical church to flat out say we need NOT forgive, waiting for repentance that will never come and holding onto their petty desires for payback to self or retribution to the offender in light of the infinite debts they shockingly expect forgiveness for daily without ever being specifically repentant for or concious of in the ways they fail to love God with ALL their heart, soul, mind, and strength. The multiple dire no-forgiveness/no-salvation warnings in the Gospels if professing believers withhold forgiveness from their heart (categorical teaching except for the Lk 17 church discipline context) make this too important to get wrong.

    If your brother repents, forgive him in the most expansive sense of the word. (says LUKE 17)

    If he does not repent, still forgive him in the most important and more common sense of the word (says ALL OTHER SCRIPTURE ADMONITIONS ON OUR FORGIVING OTHERS).

  5. Steve, thanks for that encouragement.

    I don’t think anyone who has read my book could reasonably suggest that I was saying we have license to hold onto petty desires for payback or self retribution. I covered that point very explicitly.

    I do want you to know I appreciate you taking out the time to write a heart felt response.

    I’m curious – – have you read my book?

  6. No, have not read your book, I was only addressing your comments at Desiring God blog that led me to your comments here, and the general consensus of those you cite whom I have read such as Ken Sande; I will be sure to look this up to the extent that I treat this more formally myself in the future as I will also Canady’s article. I was convicted upon reading Ken Sande that he makes some biblical/logical mistakes-fallacies in the distinctions he attempts to make in The Peacemakers.

    I am curious, do you see yourself as differing from Ken Sande’s “Peacemakers” on this issue if you are familiar with his treatment in depth which is widely read and followed in our circles?

  7. I believe ALL our desires to see an offender justly punished for ANY wrong done to US (not God)…

    are PETTY…

    IN PROPER LIGHT OF what God has forgiven, forgives every day, a gazillion times more for us against him because of his mercy and grace in CHRIST’S payment.

    It is in that light I ask you, since you commented that there is no way someone could read your book and say one should “hold on to petty desires” for (just) payback for wrongs done to us…

    …do you agree with me that all our desires to see justice for how someone has offended us are petty and that your book agrees therefore that even with the unrepentant we must release (I would say apheimi, forgive) that desire to see them suffer ultimate harm for what they did to us rather than see it paid for in the most ultimate sense at the cross?

    If so, we are in substantive agreement and only in pedagogical disagreement when you would tell people they need not “forgive” until there is repentance and I would say they need not require outward consequences (such as restitution/punishment in this world for the sake of the offender/community) but still must forgive the person in their heart and be sure to act according to the desire to see the ultimate good of even the unrepentant enemy.

  8. Steve, I think Ken Sande and I are fairly close in our understanding. Though, I need to be careful because I have not read all his material. I am speaking at their national conference in the Fall in the D.C. area.

    I suspect that we are substantively in agreement.

  9. Steve, you may find this post of interest – – something I wrote relative to the Virginia Tech murders.


  10. “Forgive” I agree is not just a therapeutic “release” that only is for one’s own benefit. It is a verb that one person does to another person, although the other person need not be conscious of it and one person has the power to unilaterally do it (or desire or attempt to do it) toward the other. This is true in the crass example of monetary debts just as I believe it is true in the moral/spiritual realm… although I have no power to forgive others’ debts to others. That decision to forgive which a person has unilaterally can of course itself be morally evaluated as done rightly or wrongly, and we know Jesus always did it right.

    One thing brought out in the article in defense of your position re: Christ’s comments on the cross, arguing it supports your position that forgiveness should wait for others’ repentance, is that Christ did not offer forgiveness but only prayed that the Father would forgive, meaning they were not forgiven yet.

    This only shows the Father had not yet forgiven yet, and Jesus is expressing his desire that the Father would forgive. This can not be used as conclusive proof for either position that a) Jesus HAD himself in his own human person “forgiven” (which I argue is a releasing any personal right/desire to see harm paid back to a person for the moral harm they do against one’s self, rightly or wrongly, even as they recognize that their heavenly Father may not forgive for the wrong done to God in the sin) or b)for conclusive proof that Jesus himself had NOT forgiven for the terrible sin in his humanity as distinguished from the Father. However, I think it is more corroborative of the former which is how I define forgiveness in the most important respect. Of course, we should all avoid making too certain conclusions from Jesus’ e.g. who as God-man is an e.g. in some ways and not in others… but those distinctions between the persons of Father and Son are important to respect just as when Christ says alternatively in places in the Gospel that he does not judge/condemn (pointing to or contrasting himself at times with Moses or the Father) but saying in other places he does indeed judge/condemn aligned with the Father.

  11. For what its worth, its not just Calvin but also C.S. Lewis who agrees with my position that says our forgiveness does not wait for repentance, and that it IS the feeling/desire that counts and not the wanting proper consequences, and would disagree with your long list of current great theological thinkers who agree with you, as is seen in his chapter on Forgiveness in Mere Christianity which you may read at


    I agree with Lewis on this and would be interested Mr. Brauns in where you think he goes wrong in his logic.

  12. Am I making you think about this?

    Change your mind, and think of the fun after all those endorsements you could write a new book and have all those heavy hitters in our Reformed community having to take you very seriously, and getting another successful book out (of course, I know you would never be motivated by such crass considerations).

    Thanks for letting me litter your blog with my comments,
    (BTW, I am a 45 yr old PCA Army chaplain and licensed atty with 3 kids who normally loves what Jay Adams et.al. whom you cite have to say on these types of issues)