5 Problems with Unconditional Forgiveness

Chris —  June 21, 2012 — 123 Comments

Many teach that Christians should unconditionally forgive grave offenses regardless of whether or not the offender is repentant. Yet, as I argued in Unpacking Forgiveness, this is not biblical.

To be sure, Christians should unconditionally adopt an attitude of forgiveness. We ought always to “wrap the package” of forgiveness. But if the other party refuses to open the present, then forgiveness has not taken place in its fullest sense.  (See others on conditional forgiveness).

While automatic forgiveness sounds like an antidote to bitterness, this is not the case. Those who try and simply dismiss grave offenses, apart from resting in the justice of God, often encounter emotional and theological problems. Here is an incomplete list of problems that sometimes arise from unconditional forgiveness.

1. Unconditional forgiveness builds bitterness.

All image bearers are hard-wired with a standard of justice. To tell someone to completely forgive  a grave offense, apart from repentance on the offender’s part, teaches that justice is cheap.  This, in turn, may lead to bitterness. See, for example, Packing Unforgiveness.

2. Unconditional forgiveness implies and leads to universalism.

Universalism is the teaching that all are saved regardless of whether or not they believe in Christ. Clearly, it is an un-biblical doctrine (John 3:36). Yet, given that the first principle of forgiveness is that we are to forgive others as God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32),  it is a small step from saying that everyone forgives everyone unconditionally , to saying that God forgives everyone unconditionally. What we believe about interpersonal forgiveness is often read back into the doctrine of salvation.

3. Unconditional Forgiveness compromises the testimony of the Church.

A number of years ago, in a Wall Street Journal article, Dennis Prager expressed his frustration over the cheap forgiveness espoused by many Christians. Prager wrote:

The bodies of the three teen-age girls shot dead last December by a fellow student at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., were not yet cold before some of their schoolmates hung a sign announcing, “We forgive you, Mike!” They were referring to Michael Carneal, 14, the killer.

This immediate and automatic forgiveness is not surprising. Over the past generation, many Christians have adopted the idea that they should forgive everyone who commits evil against anyone, no matter how great and cruel and whether or not the evildoer repents.

The number of examples is almost as large as the number of heinous crimes. Last August, for instance, the preacher at a Martha’s Vineyard church service attended by the vacationing President Clinton announced that the duty of all Christians was to forgive Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who murdered 168 Americans. “Can each of you look at a picture of Timothy McVeigh and forgive him?” the Rev. John Miller asked. “I have, and I invite you to do the same.”

Though I am a Jew, I believe that a vibrant Christianity is essential if America’s moral decline is to be reversed. And despite theological differences, Christianity and Judaism have served as the bedrock of American civilization. And I am appalled and frightened by this feel-good doctrine of automatic forgiveness.

Prager’s frustration is understandable. What sort of testimony does the Church maintain when Christians issue blanket statements of forgiveness? This does nothing to point people to God who is both loving and just.

4. Unconditional Forgiveness fails to point an onlooking world to the Cross.

Forgiveness is free. But it is not cheap. Grave offenses present opportunities to show that all have sinned and are in need of God’s forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is received only if we turn to Christ in repentance. It is more appropriate when we are wounded deeply to proclaim the Cross then to say we automatically forgive.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned that , “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.”  He pointed to the severe consequences of teaching cheap grace in Nazi Germany writing:

But do we also realize that this cheap grace has turned back on us like a boomerang?  The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost.  We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition.  Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and the unbelieving. We poured forth unending streams of grace.  But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was rarely ever heard.

5. Unconditional forgiveness removes the urgency of being reconciled with the offending party

If forgiveness is a private affair, then there is no need to ever interact directly with the one who has caused the injury. It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “I have forgiven her, but I will never talk to her again.” Such an approach does not embody the forgiveness granted by the Lord who welcomes sinners into His loving arms.

See also:

Another point of encouragement for Christians who cannot agree

Unpacking the Casey Anthony Case

Should I confront an offender or just get over it

How can I stop thinking about it?

The Forgiveness Quiz

Didn’t Jesus Forgive Unconditionally on the Cross

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123 responses to 5 Problems with Unconditional Forgiveness

  1. Great points. Now, can you build a case for your premise from Scripture?

  2. Yes.
    The first principle of Christian forgiveness is that we forgive others as God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).
    God forgives conditionally.
    Ergo, we ought also to forgive conditionally.

    Some of the links at the bottom of the post should help, including http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2008/02/18/others-on-conditional-forgiveness/

  3. Chris, thank you for your work. I have read your book and used it in many a counseling session. I would love to get your take on Mark 11:24-25 where it seems to indicate that forgiveness is to be given despite any interaction between the offender and the offended. If you have touched on this elsewhere a simple link will suffice. Thanks.

  4. Lori Vroom Lourens June 21, 2012 at 10:34 am

    I love the example in your book that we as Christians need to offer the gift of “grace” just like God does to us. However that gift can only be opened if the second party comes with repentant hearts asking for forgiveness. If the offender never comes to repent and open the gift of grace, there is not forgiveness but the grace “gift” is there if and when they are ready. Forgiveness is restored relationships just like Christ was the bridge for us. We are not saved or forgiven without repenting our sins and receiving God’s grace. This analogy of a gift has helped me in a very trying time!

  5. Josh, it is a really good question and I don’t think I have written explicitly about that verse. If I argued against conditional forgiveness, then I would use that passage first.

    Having said that, based on the analogy of Scripture (the Bible interpreting itself) we would turn to Luke 17:3-4.

    We face many other similar challenges – – say Mark on divorce (10:1-12) along with Matthew 19. I believe that Matthew allows remarriage for a biblical divorce, yet if I only had Mark’s passage it would far more difficult.

    I would also say that it is critical that we have an attitude of forgiveness when we pray – – that we have a gracious disposition. Our Lord demonstrated this on the Cross when he prayed, “Father forgive them. . .” This was a prayer for forgiveness – – yet, Christ didn’t say, as he did at other points, “your sins are forgiven.”

    I would be grateful for any feedback. What would you say? Do you think that works?

    If someone really pressed me on it, then I would ask them to explain Luke 17:3-4! Or the imprecatory Psalms, or 2 Timothy 4:14.

  6. You might answer this in your book but here’s a question: I was mistreated (mildly put) by my parents as a child. I have forgiven that and “tried” to move past it. I even attempted to have an adult relationship with them. That recently came crashing down (I’m 40 now). While I do forgive, I haven’t forgotten and I have NO desire to have a relationship with them now. My question is, is it part of forgiveness to “release” the guilty party of the “consequences” of the offence?
    If this is answered in the book, just say so and I’ll download it today!

  7. I am inclined to agree with you. However, I am thinking of the consequences of unresolved injustices in the hearts of the offended. I had always taught that the willingness to forgive (as you say, a gracious disposition) keeps bitterness and desires for personal vengeance from having destructive consequences in the offenders heart, and the granting of forgiveness should the offender repent and ask for reconciliation brings healing to the offenders heart. How do you counsel sexual abuse victims who have no hope of seeing their abusers repent or seek forgiveness?

  8. Truth Unites… and Divides June 21, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    “Unconditional Forgiveness compromises the testimony of the Church”

    I could agree with this somewhat, but I remember when the Amish people forgave a serial killer some years back and comforted his wife and kids… that there was a lot of acclaim and praise for Christ’s love and forgiveness displayed by the Amish people.

  9. How do reconcile Jesus expressing forgiveness for the people in general and his murderers in particular from the cross? It seems abundantly clear that they were not desiring forgiveness and yet Christ extended forgiveness.

  10. Dan, I spoke to that question in the post: http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2008/02/15/didnt-jesus-forgive-unconditionally-on-the-cross/. I think it’s a great question! I would say, “Christ had an attitude of forgiveness on the Cross.” See what you think of that post. Thanks for commenting.

  11. I wrote quite a lot about the Amish in my book. So much of what they did was just incredible. In fact, today I shared a link to a story about the Amish: http://takeyourvitaminz.blogspot.com/2012/06/9-forgiveness-links.html. But I think in those situations we should not only say, “We forgive him,” but we should also point people to the Cross and the justice of God. See http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2007/05/05/forgiveness-and-virginia-tech/

  12. Werner, great question. My counsel, per Romans 12:17-21, is (1) No Revenge, big or small. (2) Show love. Think creatively of how to communicate love and grace. (3) Trust God for justice. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. We don’t have to worry that someone is going to get away with something. It was resting in the justice of God that we see over and over again in Scripture: “Alexander the metal worker did me a great deal of harm . . . God will pay him back for it.” Or, Psalm 73: “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me, until I entered the sanctuary of the Lord, then I understood their final destiny.”

  13. Mark,

    Well, I think the answer is part of my book, but I can give a quick answer too in case you need to save your hard-earned money.

    Thanks for your question. Cases like yours are why as a pastor, I wrote my book. And they are also why the sub-title is “biblical answers for complex questions and deep wounds.”

    Forgiveness does not mean the elimination of consequences. I am a pastor, if I robbed the bank and then repented, my church would forgive me. But I would also be fired! And I wouldn’t be able to get a job in a bank.

    There are times when the consequences of sin have implications for an ongoing relationship.

    Having said that – – you can’t base what you do with your parents on what you desire.

    One of the most important things I could say to you practically is to unpack forgiveness in the context of a Christ-centered, Bible believing church where you have interaction with your pastors/elders.

    I pray that the Lord will give you wisdom and peace.

    Chris.

  14. Thanks Lori. One of these days when you and your husband are going to Chicago, you need to stop by and see my wife and me!

  15. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for this article. A few years back at Harvard Divinity I chose to write my paper for a New Testament Textual Critical course on Luke 23:34a, the verse that, I am sure you are aware, is the most cited prooftext for the unconditional forgiveness advocates. Some of my points are summarized in this article I wrote here:

    http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=5047

    My conclusion is that this verse is likely not original and should not be used to inform any of our theology.

    I hope it will benefit your research. I plan to revise and enlarge the paper of a journal publication in the near future.

    Alan

  16. Alan, very interesting and so much work on your part. I have to admit that this is not an issue I have studied on any level. . . I didn’t even look at the variants on that passage. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

  17. Yes, good work by Alan on that cross verse.

    That verse was hugely problematic for a Muslim that I spoke with recently. And should be hugely problematic for Christians for the reasons you listed above, Chris.

    Now, the Marken verses presented by Josh only appear to be problematic- if it is assumed that no repentance was actually received by the praying man. There may also have been some repentance at the cross (the centurion?). We do not know.

    But the verses surrounding these Marken verses appear to present that which is in fact ‘real and revealed’. As ‘real and revealed’ as a mountain thrown into the sea. As ‘real and revealed’ as the authority of Jesus.
    And as ‘real and revealed’ as a withered fig tree for those who refuse reconciliation.

  18. The next question that should be answered in regard to this issue is, what did Jesus mean when He said in Matthew 6:8: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”?

  19. Ron, thanks for your very helpful thoughts.

  20. Dan, the Lord’s prayer again expresses the first principle of forgiveness that we forgive others as God forgave us. It also (per Matthew 6:14-15) raises the stakes for those who say they cannot or will not forgive. I interact with these verses in a chapter, “What if I cannot or will not forgive?”

  21. Dan, you may also find http://www.chrisbrauns.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/One-Page-overview-of-Unpacking.JPG interesting. It’s just a sort of rough flow chart of the process. Thanks, again, for your constructive interaction.

  22. This is consistent with what John Piper has said. Most importantly, it is consistent with God’s word.

    In “As We Forgive Out Debtors” Piper wrote:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/as-we-forgive-our-debtors

    One last observation remains: forgiveness of an unrepentant person doesn’t look the same as forgiveness of a repentant person.

    In fact I am not sure that in the Bible the term forgiveness is ever applied to an unrepentant person. Jesus said in Luke 17:3–4, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” So there’s a sense in which full forgiveness is only possible in response to repentance.

    But even when a person does not repent (cf. Matthew 18:17), we are commanded to love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us and do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27).

    The difference is that when a person who wronged us does not repent with contrition and confession and conversion (turning from sin to righteousness), he cuts off the full work of forgiveness. 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)

    You can actually look someone in the face and say: I forgive you, but I don’t trust you. That is what the woman whose husband abused her children had to say.

    But O how crucial is the heart here. What would make that an unforgiving thing to say is if you were thinking this: What’s more, I don’t care about ever trusting you again; and I won’t accept any of your efforts to try to establish trust again; in fact, I hope nobody ever trusts you again, and I don’t care if your life is totally ruined. That is not a forgiving spirit. And our souls would be in danger.

  23. Interesting thoughts.

    Alan’s conclusion about Luke 23:34a is especially interesting when you consider the Parallel of Psalm 22, which contains Luke 23:34b…

    “Dogs surround me,a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”

    “Dogs surround me” is the antithesis of “Father, forgive them.” Interesting stuff. Thanks for your thoughts Chris.

  24. I remember the day I became a Christian when I was 13 years old. I read about how Jesus will not forgive you unless you forgive others. I was horrified and it really tainted my relationship with Jesus for the rest of my life because I thought Jesus hated me because I was unable to forgive my parents who were extremely abusive. Even not I think God looks at me with disgust, annoyance, and a do better attitude. I want to understand better how to let go of the pain and burden inflicted by my parents and to have a loving relationship with God.

    Your post is like a soothing balm for those who have been deeply hurt. You don’t find those kind of people around very often. Most ignore, suggests get over it, and Forgive! Forgive! Forgive! Is there advice.

  25. Thanks Robert. Really good points. One has to be so careful with wording in this context. I think Piper’s thoughts here are very helpful.

  26. Rebecca, those with experiences like yours are a big part of why I wrote Unpacking Forgiveness. Too many Christians say trite, superficial things to victims of abuse. Those who were injured can trust that vengeance is God’s and that He will repay. Of course, it still remains that we must show grace, love, and an attitude of forgiveness, remembering that whatever someone has done to offend us, pales in comparison to what we have done to offend God (Matt 18:21-35). But this does not require minimizing the offense or automatically forgiving.

  27. “Dark light”
    “Living dead”
    “Open secret”
    “Original copy”
    and
    “unconditional forgiveness’
    *
    I just discovered another oxymoron.
    *
    How can it be true forgiveness if the giver requires some kind of “purchase” from the receiver? If that is the case, then what you describe is more like arbitration than forgiveness.

  28. I would like everyone to remember we forgive not for the other person, but for ourselves and our relationship with the Father. We have been saved by Grace alone, not by works which we have done. It is our call to forgive, in hopes that others will see that we are Christians and want what we have, thus bringing them to Christ through our actions as well as our words. Of course WE cannot save everyone, but allowing God’s grace in our lives we can save ourselves by choice. Living my life by Biblical principals is just that living MY life. Honoring the Father is not necessarily easy, just like dying on the cross was not easy for Him! I personally will continue to forgive by choice, my choice, because I believe that is what I am called to do!

  29. Good stuff! You also might appreciate my offering of 7 signs of true repentance: http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2007/07/17/seven-signs-of-true-repentance/

  30. Chris

    Thank you for your kind response. I do want to move forward. I hope in the future to get your book. Finances are really tight right now. I’m ready to move forward with my life.

    Thank you.

  31. Here’s what I continue to wrestle with: Jesus tells us to forgive from the heart, not have an attitude of forgiveness and places no condition on that statement except the condition that if we don’t, he won’t.

    In Luke 17, there is an easy way to see that which does no damage to the text at all. The unrepentant isn’t even mentioned at all. So, if you take the text on it’s face then God is simply saying forgive the repentant offender. Since the unrepentant is not mentioned we must look elsewhere for help from the text.

    In Matt 18, the argument could be made that the unrepentant offender is surely in mind. Howmany times must I forgive him. What if he sins seven times a day? Could this indicate an unrepentant person?

    It seems that rather than the issue being between God and the offended (the one who has been forgiven much by God forgiving), your take on the passage adds an additional requirement. It seems that you are saying that God will not forgive you unless the offender repents and is reconciled to you. Because you insist that forgiveness hasn’t happened without the repentance of the offender. So then God who insists on my forgiveness bypasses me and also insists on the offenders repentance. How can this be?

    You could think of many examples but the simple would be the offender that still hates you and will continue to offend yea seventy time seven. Is the believer doomed to hold the debt against this person? Surely not, surely he is enjoined by our Lord to forgive and forgive and forgive.

    It seems that you definition of forgiveness and mine may be different. It seems that you definition of forgiveness includes reconciliation where I would say that forgiveness paves the way for reconciliation but they are two different things altogether. Many times reconciliation is not possible (as much as possible live at peace w all men) but there is never a time that forgiveness cannot be from the heart. My definition of forgiveness would be in light of the forgiveness that was granted me freely on Calvary when my sins were paid in full, I release the offended party, holding the offender harmless, releasing the offender from the need of just vengeance and trusting that to our God who, in Christ Jesus, forgave me. I am now free to love, do good, pray for and be reconciled to my offender.

    More later

  32. Bobby,

    Thanks for the time to write out your thoughts, especially since you had to do it twice!

    At the risk of sounding like I am shamelessly trying to sell books, I worked through all of this quite extensively in Unpacking Forgiveness. So, I ultimately point that direction in terms of the full argument including a chapter on defining forgiveness. If you want a less expensive alternative, try Caneday’s primer.

    Fundamentally, forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a transaction between two parties. Where feelings are concerned, it is incumbent upon the offended to be gracious and to have an attitude of forgiveness.

    The believer is not required to hold onto the debt – – -rather he gives it to God knowing that God will handle it. See Romans 12:17-21.

    Yes, our premise / definition is different. The first biblical principle of forgiveness is to forgive others as God forgave us. God’s forgiveness is conditional. Hence, ours is as well.

    You’ve already noted the cautions I gave regarding unconditional forgiveness. Regardless of whether or not you accept my position, watch out for those things. And beware of universalism. Once we say that forgiveness is unconditional, then it is a very short step, that is often take in our church world today, to say that God forgives everyone.

    I really do appreciate how you are wrestling with all of this. On a broader level, you might also read Embodying Forgiveness and some of the stuff by Volf. I don’t agree with all their thoughts – – – but they offer much to consider. Ken Sande’s book is great: The Peacemaker.

    Thanks again. You are very gracious in your disagreement and questions.

    Chris.

  33. Thank you for this post. I am grateful that Christians are seeking a biblical understanding of forgiveness. I write this comment with the caveat that I haven’t read your book(s) on forgiveness, so “forgive” me if this is already addressed in your work!

    I have long understood forgiveness to be a release of relational debt that occurs on two levels: 1) Positionally before the Lord as a pledge to not hold the debt against the offender (i.e. the debt owed is placed before the Lord as a means to surrendering justice to Him in the hope that the debt is paid on the cross upon repentance); and, 2) Transactionally with the offender upon their repentance.

    The positional aspect of forgiveness must always take place, unconditionally from the heart, in prayer (Mark 11:25) and with intercession for the offender (as modeled by Jesus on the cross).

    The transactional aspect of forgiveness is the outward expression of release to the repentant offender. If positional forgiveness has taken root in the heart, then this transaction becomes an overflow of what has already taken place before the Lord.

    Both aspects of forgiveness are expressions of love toward the offender with the aim of reconciling them to God (i.e. vertical release paves the way for intercessory prayer and Matthew 18 confrontation that hopefully leads to repentance; horizontal expression upon repentance removes the weight of guilt and shame that has already served its purpose for the offender).

    God conditionally forgives the debt we have unconditionally released to Him. He is the Judge and operates at a different level than we do in respect to dealing with sin.

    Forgiveness can be described a number of ways, so some of this comes down to semantics. But the positional/transactional dichotomy has helped me personally to reconcile Mark 11:25 with Luke 17.

  34. Okay already, I’ll buy the book. :-)

    You say “The believer is not required to hold onto the debt rather he gives it to God knowing that God will handle it. See Romans 12:17-21″.

    I say, Yes yes, isn’t that forgiveness? Pardon, forgive our debtors? The word forgiveness means pardon and Jesus in Matt 6 and 18 ties it directly to the language of debt, the debt being obviously, the other person’s offense.

    In egards to “forgive as Christ forgave” and then you make the statement as if it were a Bible verse or something ” God’s forgiveness is conditional” and then warn of universalism. I have an understanding of God’s forgiveness that is this: God forgave me because of what Jesus did on Calvary not based upon what I did after Calvary.

    You see it different obviously as I shall see when I investigate your book.

    Again, thanks for being gracious. Working with the deeply wounded is my career, this stuff is critical for me in giving Godly council. Look forward to the book.

  35. Great post Chris… I’ve written a bit on this in the past. One of the most alarming things about the practice of unconditional forgiveness is that it cheapens the holiness of God and the gravity of sin. People can’t understand the depth of their need to be forgiven if they think the sin is easily (or automatically) forgiven. And they won’t understand any of that if God is a grandfather-in-the-sky doling out quarters to all of us because we’re not really all that bad. Great post… a gospel post. Keep speaking the message brother.

  36. Bobby, you’re doing the right thing . . . especially given that you speak into other people’s lives. Here is another post: http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2008/06/06/an-overview-of-biblical-words-for-forgiveness/ that may be of interest.

    as well as this . . . http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2009/07/10/a-one-page-overview-of-unpacking-forgiveness/ . . .

    If you print all this stuff out, you’ll eventually prob have most of my book!

  37. Randy, I wish we (and a couple of the others commenting) could sit down for coffee. We are working in the same direction. Again, I am not trying to shameless promote my book, but it would be interesting to see what you think after reading it. My position is nuanced from yours a bit (I think), but what we have in common is a goal of being Christ-centered and not bitter. It is so important to trust God for justice.

  38. Agreed! Thanks for the points in your post. And … as long as a book passes the subject of forgiveness through the lens of the gospel, it’s worth reading. I have learned that when the gospel is applied to forgiveness, it takes on a redemptive purpose that goes beyond just our own benefits – we glorify God as we seek to reconcile the offender to Him. Living out the principle of keeping our ledgers clear (even toward enemies – Luke 6:35) translates to a free and purposeful life, despite what forgiveness costs us. But the riches we have in Christ are enough, just as they are enough for those who see us pointing to Him.

  39. Chris, your book changed my life and the life of my family. You know our story, so I won’t belabor it here; but Unpacking Forgiveness helped us through the most hellish experience of our lives. The principles you expand in the book — if taken to heart, wrestled over, and applied — will help anyone with wrong ideas about what ‘forgiveness’ is and isn’t.

  40. Debbye, praise the Lord. And thanks for the comment. I pray for you and your situation and your recent move. One of these days, we’ll meet in person: here, there, or in the air, as we say.

  41. Rob Tartaglia June 27, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Chris, with all due respect, I have to disagree with your premise that Christians should not forgive based upon Ephesians 4:32. Your exegesis of that verse fails in light of the immediate context which is graciousness and a magnanimous heart. In other words, according to your interpretation of that verse it should read, 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other only if they repent.” There is no conditional clause there, stated or implied in that context. According to the parallel passage in Col 3 and Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18, I find ‘Christian Unforgiveness’ a foreign concept to Scripture. Yes, a person needs to repent if there is in fact sin in order that forgiveness can be expressed laterally and for reconciliation to occur and restoration of the relationship. So, I think you need to look elsewhere to build your premise of unforgiveness.

  42. Hi Rob, thanks for your comment. This post may help: http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2008/06/06/an-overview-of-biblical-words-for-forgiveness/ . . . Notice in particular Paul’s choice of forgiveness words.

  43. Rob, if you find Unpacking less than persuasive, I would also recommend the resource by A.B. Caneday I rec today and the post, Others on Conditional Forgiveness: http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2008/02/18/others-on-conditional-forgiveness/

  44. I’ve been struggling with this subject lately… I even found a post by Challies back from ’08, and you (Chris) were the author back then as well. Both threads have lively discussion!

    I see unconditional forgiveness… conditional reconciliation. Here’s why (i’ll keep it as short as I can); How we treat one another is found in the character of God Himself. Even in the ten commandments, He identifies Himself as the authority giving instruction based upon Him as creator (Ex 20:11), and as our covenant God (Ex 20:2). All commands on how we are to treat one another are based on His commands/character… not ours. Even our consciences are marked with His law (Roma 1:18-20). When we wrong another, we do not break our law, but God’s. Even king David, after coveting, stealing, fornicating, murdering and blaspheming declared in His public confession in Psalm 51:4 “against You, and You only have I sinned…” (I could have listed a few others… but David did not). If my brother wrongs me, he has sinned against God, and my concern needs to be his relationship with his Father in heaven. My desire should be to rebuke him so he confesses (Lev. 19:17), and if his relationship is right with God, only then can our relationship be right (1 Jn 1:7). A few case studies: In Joshua 7, many men of Israel died in battle against Ai because of the sin of Achan. Yet, Joshua implores Achan to confess to God what he’s done, for the glory of God (Joshua 7:19-20). Also, Stephen, as he was being stoned asked God to forgive (not universalism, but a biblical prayer, since only God can grant forgiveness {Eph 1-2:10}). Paul as well, in Romans 9, wishing he could go to hell so his fellow countrymen could be saved if that were possible (Moses had the same request). These Jews were the very men disrupting his work everywhere. This response, I believe, it a result of understanding forgiveness/being forgiven (Luke 7:47).

    I agree, to be forgiven by God requires me to repent of my sins, turn in faith to Christ, and then my salvation is accomplished by Him (with the fruit true repentance brings being my assurance). My brother is saved the same way. I do not repent to my brother for my salvation nor does he repent to me. The gospel is completed by Christ (1 Jn 2:1-2) in/for us. My relationship with my brother is through our relationship in Christ.

    If I make forgiveness conditional, I have removed Christ from His place on the throne, and now impose the Law that I have no authority to impose on a man who ultimately sinned against my savior… not me.

    I believe we both agree on the gospel, but we disagree on the implications of it. To require another to repent to me is placing myself on a throne which I do not belong, defining reconciliation in terms without the gospel and misunderstanding what true biblical koinonia is.

    Perhaps we are calling reconciliation and forgiveness the same thing?

  45. Daniel, we’re not in agreement, but I think you are approaching an understanding in the right way. We must be Christ-centered.

    One of the things I discuss in Unpacking is that God never forgives apart from being reconciled.

    I keep saying this to people, but it would be interesting to hear what you think of Caneday’s approach.

    You’re right, we have been working on this for a number of years now!

  46. Chris,

    I appreciate your continued attention to the matter of Biblical forgiveness. My question relates to your very last point of the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation. I’ve read your book and have re-read many chapters in it as I have tried to sort out how forgiveness is manifested in my own life. I currently am in a situation that has been going on for several months now. A former close friend and current elder of my church brought false accusations to the church elder team alleging that I had hidden sin in my life and that I was being divisive within the congregation. None of his accusations are true and the elder team admits and recognizes that his allegations are false.

    My issue is two fold. First, he has said to me the words, “I repent”, but has never specifically confessed or acknowledged his sin. When I have asked him questions concerning his false accusations he blames me for his lies about me. I have offered and am willing to forgive, but as of yet he has not specifically acknowledged his sin. Secondly, he is insistent that “true Biblical forgiveness” requires immediate, complete, and full reconciliation of both parties. He is adamant that “if I am truly forgiving” that we would have an instantly restored relationship back to where it once was. Anything less than complete and total reconciliation according to his definition means that my forgiveness is not genuine according to him.

    As I have examined Scripture and researched the topic it seems to me that while there are many instances of forgiveness that do end in immediate and full reconciliation that there are also many times where two parties can walk through the entire process Biblically without being able to achieve complete and immediate reconciliation. In some cases I would argue that complete reconciliation may not take place until Heaven — if both parties are believers — even though true repentance and forgiveness have taken place.

    Any thoughts?

  47. Eric,

    As you know, Proverbs 18:17 is so important. Having not talked to the other party, I can’t really say too much except on a theoretical level.

    From what I can tell you are on the right track. I recently posted about this in a guest post: http://christinalangella.com/2012/06/09/guest-post-plus-free-book-giveaway-another-point-of-encouragement-for-christians-who-cannot-agree-by-chris-brauns/ . Some of forgiveness is only unpacked before the throne.

    In theory, I would agree with him that forgiveness in its fullest sense means restored relationships. However, it is not clear that he is fully repentant. In fact, given what you have said – – – it doesn’t seem this is the case.

    I would counsel you to submit to the other elders if at all possible. Defer to their judgment.

    Hopefully, this will not come up again, though if he is not repentant, it might.

    Praise the Lord that you are trying to work through this biblically. Do look at the chapter, “When Christians Cannot Agree,” again.

    Sorry this cannot be more specific and is a bit rambling. The nature of blogs I suppose.

    CDB.

  48. Thanks Chris. I ordered your book, and I will also check out Caneday’s. I’ve seen 5 problems with conditional forgiveness, but I’ll read your book before I open my mouth again (Prov 18:13;15)!

    Our last pastor was an “unconditional forgiveness” guy, and our new pastor is a “conditional forgiveness” guy. It is not a salvific doctrinal issue, yet I perceive that it really changes how one manages disputes when an elder/counselor intervenes.

    I’ll be back…

  49. Daniel, as you know, in a fallen world one sees problems attempting to implement any theology of forgiveness. The essential thing is that we must be Cross-centered. If we do that, then we will emphasize both the love and justice of God. Even in forgiving others, we will point people to the Cross. There would surely be a group who emphasize the justice of God and conditional forgiveness and use this as an excuse to be ungracious and bitter.

    I look forward to hearing from you in the future . . . and not just about forgiveness. Lots to discuss. And it’s always good to hear from people who have agricultural references in their email address. Indeed, your email inspires me to share this post which is unrelated to the forgiveness discussion. http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2009/10/12/a-tribute-to-bull-fighting-on-october-12/

  50. Hi Chris,

    I suppose my question is why you think Calvin is wrong in chapter 3 of Book III of the Institutes. He very clearly makes the case that God’s forgiveness is conditional, but that the condition is faith, faith alone, and not faith plus repentance. That’s where we get the notion of being justified (forgiven) by faith alone. I’d argue that in the context of the Institutes as a whole, repentance (or faith and repentance) as the condition of forgiveness was (and continues to be) the position of Roman Catholicism.

    Calvin is clear that faith and repentance go together, but they are not co-ordinate conditions of our forgiveness from God. Faith (or more precisely, the regeneration that we receive when we are justified by faith) produces repentance. Repentance is the fruit of faith, and so repentance is the evidence that a person has been justified by faith alone.

    Perhaps you’ve addressed Calvin’s argument (which I think is similar to the position of Luther and Cranmer) elsewhere, but I’d be interested to see where you think the Reformers got this wrong – why you think that repentance is not the fruit of faith. And whether you agree with idea of being justified by faith alone – truly alone.

    You raise the prospect of a universalist understanding of God’s forgiveness if we make our forgiveness of one another not conditional on one another’s repentance. But I think that is only a danger if we obscure the place of faith as the condition (or a condition) of our forgiveness from God. Again, perhaps you clearly state this elsewhere, but the way your syllogism works from Eph 4:32 – that we forgive as God forgives us; and then you interpret Eph 4:32 to be speaking of conditions of our forgiveness (which seems to be tangential to its purpose in its context); and then only highlight repentance as the condition(and, as far as I’ve seen, don’t mention faith as even a condition, let alone the condition), would seem to obscure the place of faith in our forgiveness from God.

    If faith is a requirement (let alone the requirement) of God’s forgiveness, then we aren’t in danger of making God’s forgiveness univeralistic by not making our forgiveness dependent on repentance, are we? You might have other criticisms of forgiveness not being conditional on repentance, but this one seems to be linked to the fact that when you speak of the conditions of God’s forgiveness of us, you seem to only ever mention repentance and not faith.

  51. Hi Mark. What a way to set me up with how you frame the question! I am not a Calvin scholar and haven’t interacted with him on these matters.

    Of course, in the context of forgiveness discussion repentance comes up more often than faith. But where soteriology is concerned, rest assured that I believe wholeheartedly in sola fide. Indeed, we want to make sure that we aren’t setting forth in such a way that it is a work rather than a receiving of the gift of salvation. Of course, the Bible sets forth the call to follow Christ in terms of repentance (being the other side of the faith coin) as in Acts 20:21, 26:19-20.

  52. Mark, where interpersonal forgiveness is concerned, do you come down on the side of conditional or unconditional?

  53. Hi Chris,

    Sorry, especially if that came on too strong. I wasn’t wanting to set you up, but raise something that I think is pretty important to wrestle with in how we read Scripture on this. The Reformers addressed this question in their debate over what the gospel is with Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism held (and continues to hold) a version of the view you are putting forward – that God’s forgiveness in conditional on faith and repentance. At least Luther, Calvin and Cranmer strongly disagreed and held that we are justified by faith alone, not faith and repentance.

    I know a lot of evangelicals today hold to a view on this that seems to me to be closer to Roman Catholicism than the Reformers, and I’ve wanted to see some indication as to whether this is because people aren’t reading the Reformers or wrestling with what they said, or because they’ve thought through a position that somehow comes up with an evangelical understanding of the gospel while taking on a version of the Roman Catholic understanding of soteriology.

    That’s probably still too strong, but I think, as you do, that the stakes are potentially high here – it’s not meant to be a gotcha, but it is meant to say that I think the arguments the Reformers had (not just that they held a view, but the arguments they put forward from Scripture for it) matters, and should only be rejected after careful consideration, given that we think they basically got the gospel right, and this connects closely to that.

    I’m not sure how you can hold to sola fide in soteriology if you think that God only forgives people if they repent. Sola fide was meant to say that in our justification (or forgiveness) from God faith was the only requirement – not faith and good works, or faith and repentance. Repentance is something that only a justified sinner is capable of doing – justification makes repentance possible (indeed, makes it certain), so it can’t be requirement for forgiveness. So I’m not sure how you can make repentance a condition for forgiveness, and yet your soteriology does not have it as a condition?

    I used to hold your view on conditional interpersonal forgiveness, and held it with great passion for similar reasons that you’ve stated. I’ve moved to the other side as I’ve wrestled with how Calvin unpacks the view that God’s forgiveness is on the basis of faith alone and that this generates our repentance as the sign of our justification, and then drawn the connection between how God forgives us and how we forgive one another. So now, I hold that we forgive irrespective of repentance.

  54. No, that’s fine. The discussion is great.

    It sounds to me a bit like the Lordship Salvation Debate from 25 years ago with MacArthur vs. Ryrie etc.

    I have read the Reformers though (and I am not being falsely modest) I don’t think as closely as you. I emphatically agree that the stakes are very high indeed where our understanding of faith is concerned. And it is all too easy to slide into making faith a work.

    What do you think of MacArthur’s post here: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Questions/QA163 ?

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful interaction and comments. And it’s fine to get my attention with a zinger! I read the disagreeing with Calvin line aloud to the family members sitting in the family room with me. I knew the pressure was on!

    I’ll be very curious to hear your comments re the MacArthur post – – -though when it is convenient for you.

  55. Chris, much to my delight my ‘hard core’ Bible study guys took up your premise with joy. I set it up using Eph 4:32, Matt 18, Matt 6, Luke 17 and Mark 11asking first “Is God’s forgiveness conditional?” and second “Is then ours therefore also?”

    Our consensus is this, That we get your premise and that forgiveness cannot be complete in the sense of fully experienced by both parties and then therefore fully delivering on its designed outcome unless the offender has repented. However the scripture clearly calls the believer to forgiveness irrespective of the response of the offender and that is clearly in keeping with what God has done for us in Christ. When God accepted Jesus’ payment on Calvary as paid in full He in fact redeemed for Himself a people that day who would surely repent and in their repentance would in fact complete the transaction so that both the forgiver and the forgivee are now reconciled one to another. But His work was irrespective of my response even though my sins were being both suffered and forgiven on the tree.

    I am sure to read with joy your book and review it with my boys even with my biased setup of your POV. :-)

  56. Bobby, great stuff. Maybe at some point I can Ichat with your Bible study guys. I was thinking of you today. I am thinking of doing a series of guest posts where I ask people to respond to the Sunflower question. You got my attention with your comment that this is what you do in real life . . . I think it is a good exercise to work through how we would respond to someone in a counseling sort of situation.

    Have you read the Sunflower? I was going to write about it in Unpacking but what with word count and all I didn’t get to include it.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Sunflower-Possibilities-Forgiveness-Paperback/dp/0805210601/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340938932&sr=8-1&keywords=the+sunflower+on+the+possibilities+and+limits+of+forgiveness

  57. Chris,
    Thanks for your time in responding to my question. You are correct in that this is not the best format for this discussion, but your answer is helpful.

    Thanks again for your study in to this topic. I look forward to reading and studying further.

  58. Chris,

    Yeah, there’s probably some similarities with that debate, when I came across that debate some twenty years ago it was through McArthur’s the Gospel According to Jesus and loved the book. I still am very sympathetic to what he’s trying to preserve there (and in the short article you linked) – there’s certainly no place for a cheap grace that does not produce repentance in our preaching of the gospel. I suppose my take on the Lordship salvation debate is that it was one of those rare situations where both sides were wrong, but if I *had* to choose one, I’d go with McArthur as being less wrong than the alternative.

    My basic question about McArthur’s post for you, before I give my thoughts on it, is whether you think a thoughtful, knowledgable Roman Catholic would disagree with any of that post? Not adding repentance to faith but saying only a repentant faith saves? check – classic RC response to evangelical critiques. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin? Check. Is there anything there that a thoughtful RC would disagree with?

    My first thought is that McArthur is wrong in his final sentence, if he means by ‘apart from’ that our salvation is conditional upon a deep hatred of our sin. The view he’s articulating here was John Wesley’s view, and was part of his arminian rejection of a reformed understanding of the relationship of faith and repentance. When Rev Toplady wrote Rock of Ages, he was explicitly rejecting this view of the place of repentance in our salvation in the stanzas:

    Not the labor of my hands
    Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
    Could my zeal no respite know,
    Could my tears forever flow,
    All for sin could not atone;
    Thou must save, and Thou alone.

    Nothing in my hand I bring,
    Simply to Thy cross I cling;
    Naked, come to Thee for dress;
    Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
    Foul, I to the fountain fly;
    Wash me, Savior, or I die.

    Is there hatred of sin here? Well yes, there is a recognition that the person needs saving, and a desire to be saved. But this hymn is a statement of faith, and faith alone from start to finish. It explicitly rejects a deep hatred of one’s own sin as able to be part of one’s salvation – Toplady contrasts that with coming to Christ to be saved, he doesn’t join them together the way that MacArthur does.

    So my first thought is that MacArthur hasn’t understood the Reformed tradition Reformation or post-Reformation as well as his final sentence suggests.

    Second thought is that his third paragraph about what repentance involves is bang on the money. Repentance involves a hatred of sin, a change of mind, a refusal to continue willfully in sin, it issues in a change of life.

    My third thought is that if that is the case, and he is right about his second paragraph – that the Bible does indeed join both faith and repentance together as the requirement, then his last paragraph cannot be right.

    If to be saved I must hate my sin, must turn from my sin and start doing what is right (at least in my heart, even if I haven’t had the chance to do it in practice it yet), then how is that possibly anything other than the Roman Catholic position that Luther, Cranmer, and Calvin rejected? Repentance is something we do, faith is receiving something God has done in Christ. That is soteriology 101 for the Reformers. To make salvation dependent on repentance is to make it dependent on what we do pretty well by the definition of the terms.

    You can see it in MacArthur’s article – repentance is to hate sin, to turn from sin, to start doing what is right. Those are all things we do, all things that the Law of God requires. So are we saved on the condition of intending to keep the Law of God? Or are we saved by Christ, apart from anything we do, which we receive by faith? And having received it, we are then given the mind of the Spirit and so seek to please God in everything?

    Those are my basic thoughts, on a quick read.

  59. Just in the past week I have had to deal with a victim of rape and another of beating into adulthood by her father. These come to us in the full throws of the consequences of unforgiveness, deep emotional distress and a life that has come unraveled. Most are homeless or almost so. It is our joy to watch Christ miraculously set many free from their offenders. One lady (whose story is on our website) was raped and stabbed in the neck barely missing both jugulars. Her story is breathtaking. I dared not share these stories for fear of the “anecdotal evidence” or “forgiveness is not a feeling” charge that usually accompanies stories. However, Christ has mercifully set these saints free from their offenders and rarely in such cases have we counseled the victims to pursue the repentance of their offenders (some dead, some in jail and some would abuse them again with delight). If we had to leave them bound to their offenders or even in some slight way believe the scriptures led us that we we would surely do it but we really don’t see it that way.

    We lead victims to leave vengeance to God, to trust that Calvary not only provides the wrath of God for their offenders sin but also for theirs and to allow God to be God and trust themselves to Him who judges justly. We teach that vengeance is just and holy but that we in our sinful condition aren’t to execute it but rather trust it to God who judges justly. We also ask the offended party to realize that all forgiveness presumes a debt which cannot be paid that the offender must be released from, and not released by a pass (getting off free) but rather by a full payment (either Christ’s on Calvary or theirs in eternal damnation)in either case the payment is full and satisfies the justice and love of God for them. Also, we council that He did the exact same for them.

    We are continually listening as how to strengthen this message of hope from our Lord’s work and are hopeful you can add to our care for the broken.

    Thanks again.

  60. Hey Chris,

    If I can offer something for you to tell me your thoughts, when you get the chance, as well, I’d ask what you think about the Westminster’s Confession of Faith Chapters XI, XIV, and XV on justification, saving faith, and repentance to life. I think that document would be considered a reasonable witness to the Reformed tradition on the topics it touches on, not infallible, but anything in it certainly has a claim to be ‘Reformed’. I think it shows the signs of having been written in a committee on this question, and so sends a bit of a mixed message, but it’s another document we could compare notes on along with MacArthur’s, Calvin’s.

  61. Caleb Kolstad June 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Chris Brauns helped me develop a more precise (biblical) understanding of forgiveness which led me to preach a series of sermons on Christ-like forgiveness when going through Colossians 3:12-14. http://www.fbcfreeport.com

    Thank you Chris for your helpful book and for your detailed research. At the end of the day both camps (Adams vs Brauns) apply these texts in almost the exact same manner…..they just use different language to describe what is happening. An important issue but not one we should break fellowship over. It is far easier to preach on forgivness then it is to extend the present of forgiveness. “The one who demands forgiveness but shows none ruins the bridge over which he himself must past.” Together for the gospel.

  62. Hi All, Reading this post leaves me sadened yet with hope. I am preaching tomorrow on forgiveness. Daniel you put it perfectly, we were never called judge, not even jury! Lets get off our thrones and give God the opportunity to carry out His eternal purposes. I’m no theologian or phillosopher but for all the arguements pro. conditional there is a con. God always calls us higher than is humanistically possible to help us realise our hopeless situation. As the law did in the OT. We will never do it this side of heaven, I’m not saying it is easy but boy it is powerful. Release men and watch our God work..

  63. Hi Chris,

    Following up from a couple of days ago, I thought I’d flag the bits of the Westminster Confession of Faith that I think are pertinent to this question, and what I think they are saying.
    First, chapter XI Of Justification:
    I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
    II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.

    First point is fairly standard – righteousness is imputed for Christ’s sake alone, not anything wrought in a person or done by them, not even the act of believing. How is this received? By receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness by faith. There is no mention of repentance here in our justification – at least, no positive mention, it is only mentioned to reject it as part of the basis of why we are justified ‘nothing wrought in them’.

    Second point makes this more explicit, ‘Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification’. Is it faith and repentance? No. Is it repentant faith? No, as we will see – the Westminster Confession keeps faith and repentance separate, not as two sides of the same coin.

    But, the faith that is the alone instrument of our justification is never alone, and that’s the point of the rest of the second paragraph. When faith is given, it comes with all saving graces (note ‘all’ saving graces, not just ‘one’ – repentance), and the one that the confession highlights is that faith works by love. So someone cannot be saved ‘apart from’ repentance, in the sense that repentance, however small and weak, must be there if saving faith is there. But that’s also true of things like love for God, love for neighbour, and good works. They are all saving graces as well, and all are given with faith. No-one is saved ‘apart from’ any of them, in the sense that they have to be there if faith is there. But would we move from that fact to say that God’s forgiveness is conditional on our love for him? For our neighbour? On our good works? The reformed answer has always been, ‘may it never be!’

    Down further comes the issue of our forgiveness after conversion in Paragraph V:
    V. God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.

    Is forgiveness linked to repentance here? Most assuredly not, quite the opposite. There are serious consequences for unrepentant sin, but God continues to forgive the sin of those that are justified even if they have fallen under his fatherly displeasure and do not have the light of his countenance upon him. Repentance is given an important place in our ongoing relationship with God, but it is definitely not linked to forgiveness.

  64. Let’s turn then to how the Confession defines faith and repentance. Saving Faith in Chapter XIV:

    II. By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

    Here what faith does is unpacked – and the link between faith and repentance is shown. By faith we do the things normally associated with repentance; we act differently, we obey, we tremble, we embrace. All of those are things that faith does. Faith produces repentance, we repent ‘by faith’, not in the sense that belief substitutes for repentance, but in the sense that true faith works repentance in us.

    But those are not the ‘principal acts’ of saving faith, not what lies at the heart of saving faith. The principal acts of saving faith are to accept, receive and rest upon Christ alone. These are stated in the passive – not things we do, but our not doing and receiving Christ and what he has done. Repentance and faith are connected, but they are different. Repentance is what we do – obey, act differently, tremble, embrace. This is all produced by genuine faith in the God who speaks, but the essence of that faith is to not work but to receive the work Christ has done – something that repentance can have no part in, as it is something we do.

    Finally, Chapter XV Repentance unto Life:

    I. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.

    II. By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.

    III. Although repentance is not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ, yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.

    First paragraph, repentance must be preached ‘as well as faith in Christ’. The two are distinguished by this as two different things, not the one thing under two faces. And both are being held up as necessary, and an obligation in our preaching.
    Second paragraph, pretty clear and robust definition of repentance – no easy believism there. And again, I think if you read it carefully, you can see why, if this is what repentance is, our justification cannot be conditional on our repentance. Is it really the case that God forgives us conditional on our determination to ‘walk with him in all the ways of his commandments’ – i.e. on our commitment to be obedient and righteous? If so, then just join the Catholic Church.
    Third paragraph, repentance must not be rested in as any cause of the pardon of sin. How much clearer does it need to be? It is not *any* cause – not meritorious, but also not instrumental – of the pardon for sin. It has *no* place in our pardon for sins. Nonetheless, it is necessary. How necessary? No-one unrepentant may expect pardon without it.

    This is where I wish they’d been a bit clearer, although I think they’ve already given the data for it. Why can no-one unrepentant expect pardon without repentance if repentance is not any cause of our pardon and faith is the sole instrument of our justification? Because faith comes with every other saving grace, and faith produces repentance. Repentance is the evidence and sign of our faith and our justification, having been produced by it. Where it is absent, then there is no evidence or sign, and so there can be no expectation of pardon. That’s connecting the dots, but it seems to be the ‘best fit’ of the data in the confession. And it helps explain why the ‘practical syllogism’ has been so important in reformed thinking.

    Finally, forgiveness between believers in paragraph VI:

    VI. As every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof; upon which, and the forsaking of them, he shall find mercy; so he that scandelizeth his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended; who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him.

    I think this is inconclusive one way or the other, but I’ll note that it speaks of people being ‘reconciled’ to the sinning brother and ‘receiving’ him when he repents, not ‘forgiving’ him. It’s the preferred language for my position, although it is certainly open to being understood in your terms. But if that is the case, and we repent conditional on repentance, (which I don’t think, but just to pursue the idea), then, based on this, that can only be because our forgiveness of each other has aspects that are very different from God’s forgiveness of us. God’s forgiveness required the death of Christ, our forgiveness requires no sacrifice. God’s forgiveness is judicial as well as relational – justifies as well as reconciles. Ours only does the latter. *If* our forgiveness is conditional on repentance, then that is different from God’s forgiveness, because God’s forgiveness is conditional only on faith, according to the Westminster Confession, and Calvin – and both for good biblical reasons.

  65. Sorry, important and condusing typo towards the end of the follow-up comment above,

    But if that is the case, and we repent conditional on repentance,

    Should be:

    But if that is the case, and we forgive conditional on repentance,

  66. Mark, lots going on, so I can’t give all the attention I would like to responding in a comment – – – could you just come by for coffee? But be assured I am considering your thoughts.

    In Acts 26:19-20, was Paul referring to his proclamation of the Gospel? Was John the Baptist issuing a Gospel proclamation with his “repent”?

  67. Hey Chris,

    No problems, I know how life can be, and I don’t have the responsibilities of a pastor. I figured I’d take the responsibility to get more of the argument out there for you to consider when you could, as it looked like you were tied up.

    Coffee? Would love to meet you and your family; next time (i.e. first time) I’m randomly flying from Oz to U.S. we’ll line it up :D. More seriously, I could do skype if you wanted something slightly more ‘face to face’ – email me if that’s the case.

    On Acts 26:19-20, Paul is certainly speaking of his preaching of the gospel in that passage. My take on passages like that is the same as Calvin’s in Book 3, chapter 3 of the Institutes and for the same reasons as he gives there. I’ll quote the extract and highlight the particularly pertinent bits:

    Though all this is true, yet the term repentance (in so far as I can ascertain from Scripture) must be differently taken. For in comprehending faith under repentance, they are at variance with what Paul says in the Acts, as to his “testifying both to the Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 20:21). Here he mentions faith and repentance as two different things. What then? Can true repentance exist without faith? By no means. But although they cannot be separated, they ought to be distinguished. As there is no faith without hope, and yet faith and hope are different, so repentance and faith, though constantly linked together, are only to be united, not confounded. I am not unaware that under the term repentance is comprehended the whole work of turning to God, of which not the least important part is faith; but in what sense this is done will be perfectly obvious, when its nature and power shall have been explained. The term repentance is derived in the Hebrew from conversion, or turning again; and in the Greek from a change of mind and purpose; nor is the thing meant inappropriate to both derivations, for it is substantially this, that withdrawing from ourselves we turn to God, and laying aside the old, put on a new mind. Wherefore, it seems to me, that repentance may be not inappropriately defined thus: A real conversion of our life unto God, proceeding from sincere and serious fear of God; and consisting in the mortification of our flesh and the old man, and the quickening of the Spirit. In this sense are to be understood all those addresses in which the prophets first, and the apostles afterwards, exhorted the people of their time to repentance. The great object for which they labored was, to fill them with confusion for their sins and dread of the divine judgment, that they might fall down and humble themselves before him whom they had offended, and, with true repentance, retake themselves to the right path. Accordingly, they use indiscriminately in the same sense, the expressions turning, or returning to the Lord; repenting, doing repentance. Whence, also, the sacred history describes it as repentance towards God, when men who disregarded him and wantoned in their lusts begin to obey his word, and are prepared to go whithersoever he may call them. And John Baptist and Paul, under the expression, bringing forth fruits meet for repentance, described a course of life exhibiting and bearing testimony, in all its actions, to such a repentance.

    Repentance can be used to speak of the whole course of turning from alienation from God back to God, and when it is used this way in the Bible then faith is actually comprehended by repentance, it is part of repentance in that sense – first italicised bit.

    However, and this is in the earlier section before the first italicised bit, the Bible clearly distinguishes between faith and repentance, they aren’t to be confounded. Calvin then goes on to offer a definition for repentance that I’ve italicised, and sets himself up for then discussing repentance further in more material after this extract.

    You can talk of our return to God simply in terms of repentance, without any mention of faith, just as Paul does in Acts 20. But in those situations, faith is still implicit in the passage on the basis of what the Bible says about the relationship between faith and repentance.

    We’ve got to put the ‘Lordship salvation’ to one side to at least some degree to hear what guys like Calvin and the Westminster divines are saying. They are saying that repentance is not a condition of our forgiveness (contra MacArthur) but that there is no division of faith and repentance, Christ as Saviour and Christ as Lord (contra the other side of that debate).

    One can speak of our response to God purely in terms of repentance, without any mention of faith. But, as Calvin will explain, that’s because faith generates that repentance, and so can be seen as ‘part of repentance’, even though distinguishing them is more common in the NT. Behind the language that Paul uses in places like Acts 26:19-20, Calvin sees a much more robust and expansive understanding of ‘repentance’ then we tend to run with. Part of the problem of making forgiveness dependent on ‘repentance’ is that one then has to shrink down what repentance is in your efforts not to make it a self-righteous thing whereby we earn our forgiveness. Keeping it out enables it to be pressed with full force as a way of describing the whole course of the Christian life, the way that Paul does here and so, paradoxically, it can then be used to stand in for the whole of our response to the gospel.

  68. Sigh, did it again. Third paragraph from the bottom:

    You can talk of our return to God simply in terms of repentance, without any mention of faith, just as Paul does in Acts 20. But in those situations, faith is still implicit in the passage on the basis of what the Bible says about the relationship between faith and repentance.

    That should be ‘Acts 26:19-20′, not ‘Acts 20′

  69. Yes, I would agree. My point in terms of conditional repentance is not that the offender has to work off the offense, but rather that he must receive the gift.

  70. God does not forgive apart from the convert receiving the gift . . . acknowledging that even the reception of the gift is a work of God’s grace.

  71. I agree with that, and would think that was utterly basic to a Christian view of God’s forgiveness. Only universalists would disagree (and only those universalists who construe their universalism as being forced upon people whether they want it or not, other universalists might hold that everyone receives it even though their acceptance is hidden from view – both heresy, but the latter kind would accept your proposition).

    But I would say, and point to the Westminster Confession as a witness to how mainstream this idea is, that ‘receiving the gift’ is done by faith alone – the primary part of faith is that we accept, receive, and rest in Christ and his righteousness. Repentance is no part of receiving the gift of forgiveness in classic reformed soteriology, it is fruit of having received it, the sign that it has been received, but it is not part of the reception itself.

    God’s forgiveness must be conditional in orthodoxy. But the condition is faith – coming to rest upon Christ and what he has done for you. Faith is the ‘alone instrument’.

  72. Meant to say “conditional forgiveness” here.

  73. I wholeheartedly agree that “faith alone” is mainstream!

  74. We agree that ‘faith alone’ is mainstream, but there seems to be (at least) two different ideas of what that means. MacArthur, in the article/post you linked, sees ‘faith alone’ as meaning ‘faith and repentance’ because they are two sides of the same coin – ‘repentant faith’.

    Calvin and the Westminster Confession sees ‘faith alone’ as meaning ‘faith and nothing else, not repentance, not love, not good works etc, faith is the sole way we receive God’s forgiveness’. And they explain the necessity for repentance differently than making it a condition of our forgiveness from God.

    I’m not sure which sense you mean when you say that you agree that ‘faith alone’ is mainstream.

  75. Mark,
    I don’t know if the discussion is still ongoing, but I read MacArthur as essentially saying the same thing as Westminster: namely, that we are saved by grace alone, through faith; but a faith that is a repentant and transforming.

    Nobody here is asserting that one is saved by faith + anything. Repentance is not in addition to faith, it’s a description of the kind of living faith (i.e., not “dead faith” as Westminster warns against) through which we are saved.

    I take Chris’ comment about the popularity of “faith alone” to be a critique of dead, non-repentant faith — as evidenced by millions of people who claim to be Christians because they prayed a prayer or “accepted Jesus’ forgiveness” with no repentance, no evidence of loving the Lord or hating sin, no desire to actually be Jesus’ disciple.

  76. Jeff, agreed. You did a better job expressing this than I did. Proverbs 27:17!

  77. Mark Baddeley July 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Hi Jeff,

    I think you’ve proven my argument for me in the language you’ve used and the Chris has agreed with.

    I’ve shown from Calvin and Westminster why I think they see faith and repentance as two different things. Faith produces repentance, so God’s justification precedes our repentance and is generative of our repentance.

    You’ve said that repentance is a way of describing living faith, so to make forgiveness conditional on repentance is not an addition to faith, just a description of the kind of faith that saves. So our repentance precedes God’s justification and is the condition for it.

    Those are not the same position – not on faith, not on repentance, not on the relationship of faith and repentance to justification. They are two, quite different, positions. Both use the same language of ‘faith alone’, but mean two very different things by it. My contention is that Calvin and the Westminster divines would not recognise the view of ‘faith alone’ that you, Chris, and MacArthur are expounding as the view that they expounded. Especially not MacArthur’s article, where he seems to be saying from Acts 20 that repentance leads to faith is the ‘best’ explanation of the relationship of faith and repentance. So their view of faith–>justification–>repentance has become repentance–>faith–>justification.

    I’d argue that behind the strong distinction that they make between faith and repentance is the Augustinian distinction between what God demands of people (Law) and what God gives to people (grace or gospel). Repentance is related to Law, faith to grace and gospel. Turning from sin and to God and righteousness is what God demands of us, it is part of God’s Law, and failing to do it brings God’s judgement. So to make this part of the definition of faith, to say this and faith are two sides of the same coin, to say that this is the kind of faith that saves, is to make our forgiveness conditional on our obedience to the Law. The scandal of justification by grace through faith alone was that it was saying that God justifies the ungodly, not the godly, the unrepentant, not the repentant. Repentance and good works are necessary, but they are the fruit of the Spirit regenerating us which happens when there is living faith, they are not the precondition for the Spirit’s regenerative work.

    As I said, I think this is fairly clear in Calvin, and reasonably so in Westminster. If you think I’m wrong, and that your, Chris, and MacArthur’s position is the same as theirs, then it might advance the conversation further if you quote the sections in their writings that lead to that conclusion and explain why you think that shows that they see repentance as a description of faith.

  78. Hi Mark. You would agree per James that there is a sort of faith which saves and that there is a kind of faith that is dead?

    I wish, again, that I could give this more time. I would concede that my knowledge of Calvin does not allow me to quickly interact with his material.

    The main thing I would stress in this context is that we must forgive graciously as God forgives. So we should not insist on a price for forgiveness on any level. Neither should we imply that God requires a work of any sort from us, or that our receipt of the gift of salvation is by faith alone.

    In regards to MacArthur’s position on Lordship Salvation, I think he was convincing, as did theologians like Packer and Boyce and many others. Of course, some of the old line dispensationalists were not persuaded (Ryrie et al). But I am guessing that you would not align with that camp.

    Do you know of any Reformed critique of MacArthur’s work on this?

  79. Hi Chris,

    I definitely agree with James that there is a dead faith and a living faith, and that the difference is that the latter produces good works. I’ve tried to say at a number points that that is not up for debate – this is not a restatement of the ‘free grace’ position.

    I agree with you as to what you are trying to do, and the emphaseses you are placing on forgiveness. I think you’ll find the Calvin/Westminster position more conducive to your efforts on this front – it’s the reason why I moved to it.

    I think there’s been a couple of reformed critiques of MacArthur’s position, but Michael Horton’s book on the subject is fairly mainstream, you can get a sense of the critique from the Amazon description and the readers’ comments on it – http://www.amazon.com/Christ-Lord-Reformation-Lordship-Salvation/product-reviews/0801043743/ref=cm_cr_dp_see_all_btm?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending

    I think you’ll see that the critique is much the same as what I’m saying – ‘free grace’ is wrong for making faith mere intellectual assent and making sanctification optional, MacArthur and co are wrong for subsuming obedience into faith rather than the classic reformed position that faith leads to repentance and good works.

  80. If I really believed in “Unconditional Forgiveness” I would renounce my Christianity today! It makes a joke of the Law and of GOD’s Justice. Even GOD does NOT forgive without Repentance AND Restitution. Restitution is the EVIDENCE that your Repentance was GENUINE. Christians need to understand that GOD’s Love and GOD’s Justice are perfectly EQUAL, and that Love does not outway Justice, nor do away with Justice. If GOD does not punish Sin then He is an “accomplice” to Sin. The Bible clearly states that NO Sin will go unpunished!

  81. Chris,
    I am struggling with an inconsistency I see in your argument. John MacArthur, John Piper, and Ken Sande as you mention above say that there are times for both unconditional forgiveness and conditional forgiveness. Where I am struggling is that you seem to throw out the ‘small offenses’ in your definition of forgiveness of sin. You seem to label small offenses as ‘non sins’ to let go of. But by logical deduction then what you are saying is that forgiveness only applies to big sins or patterns of sins. This would mean we are all headed for hell based on the small sins we have done that are not forgiven. When we repent we do not name every single little sin we ever did when we were growing up. Aren’t these sins fogiven too? We are justified, declared right, forgiven for all sins, even the small ones. I am truly struggling with your inconsistency in this.
    John MacArthur’s point in his book on forgiveness is that sometimes there is a need for unconditional forgiveness and other times it is conditional forgiveness. He just leaves the tension that Scripture appears to give us as a tension. We want everything to fit in a tight little box, but Mark 11:24-25 and 1 Peter 4:8 appear to point to times of unilateral forgiveness.
    One of the reason I think this is so important to just leave as a tension is because of circumstances we all face. I believe the Lord wants us to let some sin go because it shows his continuous grace shown towards us daily. But other times he wants us to confront for the glory of God and the good of the person.
    In our counseling of the sheep, most of the time, it the multitude of small sins that cause people to get bitter at their spouses. If everytime a spouse raised their voice or argued a point without gentleness and love we would all find ourselves confronting our sposes all the time or we would recluse into a shell to avoid being rebuked continuously. I Peter 3:1 wives are called point their husbands to the Lord without words. How can they give forgiveness to their husbands without confronting them?
    I know the world will misunderstand our forgiveness (both unconditional and conditional forgiveness), but they misunderstand everything we do! Our love makes no sense to them. Will you please help me by explaining this inconsistency? I preached on Luke 17:3-5 this past weekend and I am still grappling with this tension.
    Mike

  82. Mike,

    Have you read my book? It’s not a loaded question – – – it will help me know how to respond. I spend a chapter in my booking on this tension, speaking of when to confront and when to let lover cover it.

    Before I forget – – you might look at this post: http://www.chrisbrauns.com/2009/07/10/a-one-page-overview-of-unpacking-forgiveness/ .

    In terms of my presentation in Unpacking, I don’t see the inconsistency in my position. I am not aware that my position is different than either MacArthur, Piper, or Sande. One must make a wisdom call over whether or not something needs to be confronted. That tension is present in Scripture, as you have pointed out. I don’t think you can get away from it. It’s been some time since I looked at his position, but I think Adams stresses that things need to be confronted more. But my memory is fuzzy on that.

    It follows that major offenses are what necessarily needs to be confronted rather than minor ones.

    All sin is equally wrong; but all sin is not equally bad. If I am grumpy with my wife, that is sin. It is just as wrong as robbing a bank. But it is not as bad. And it would not disqualify me from ministry.

    Does that make sense?

    Chris.

  83. Chris,

    I am in process of reading your book. I have read through chapter 8. By the way in principal I agree with most of wht you say in the book. I just think because you are wanting to come up with a hard and fast definition of frgiveness that you ignore some passage that point to uncondiitional forgiveness (Mark 11:24-25 and 1 Peter 4:8). In chapter 8 of your book the place where I find the inconsistency. On your chart the inconsistency jumps off the page. There are five diamonds. The first diamond points down and says let love cover. The next three say forgive and reconcile. The last one has nothing. According to you above these offenses we ‘let love cover’ are ‘sins’ just not ‘bad’ sins. You are saying let love cover these not ‘bad’ sins. Are you saying then, letting love cover these sins is NOT forgiveness? But the other three diamonds tell of when sin is forgiveness? Covering is used reglarly as a synonym to describe forgiveness. So in short is ‘letting love cover’ a grumpy hearted spouse forgiving them or not? Even better does God forgive us when we have a grumpy attiude ONLY when we repent and confess our sin to Him? Or are there times when He works with us letting the atonement cover when He does not expect a full confession of the particular sin. I would say I am repenting numerous times in a day, but I know there are obviously sins I do (probably of ommission more than commission) that I dont even recoginze to a full extent that I am doing. This is especially true of my intial time of walking with Him years ago. Obviously God forgives these sins doesn’t He? Or does He just let them go? But isnt “forgiving” and “letting them go” the same?
    See I think in our desire to put this topic of forgiveness in a nice neat box we have fixed a definition for forgiveness that God has not given us. IT appears to be BOTH! sometimes unconditonal forgiveness is necessary and sometimes conditional forgiveness is necessary. The following is a quote from John MacArthur’s book on forgiveness. I am sorry it is so long. I think he lays it out well. I would love to know your view of this.

    John MacArthur, “It is obvious from Scripture that sometimes forgiveness must be conditional. For example, in certain cases the offender is to be confronted and ultimately even excommunicated from the church if he or she refuses to repent (Luke 17:3; Matt. 18:15-17). … But does every offense call for confrontation, possibly leading to formal church discipline? Is there no place for simply granting unilateral forgiveness for petty offenses? Is there no time when the offended party should simply overlook a transgression, choosing to suffer wrong and forgive without being asked or without formally confronting the offender?
    Obviously, these questions have important practical ramifications. If you had a friend who scrupulously tried to confront you every time you committed a petty offense, wouldn’t the friendship grow tedious pretty quickly? And if marriage partners saw it as their solemn duty to confront each other for every offense, wouldn’t such a mind-set make the marriage relationship practically impossible to endure? It is a mistake to assume that verses like Luke 17:3 (“If your brother sins, rebuke him”) and Matthew 18:15 (“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault,” NN) are absolute prescriptions for every kind of transgression.
    If we were obligated to confront one another for every paltry misdeed, we would be doing little else. Indeed, Scripture gives us another principle for dealing with the vast majority of petty infractions: overlook the offense. Forgive unilaterally, unconditionally. Grant pardon freely and unceremoniously. Love demands this. “Keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions” (Prow 10:12). “He who covers a transgression seeks love” (Prow 17:9). Love “does not take into account a wrong suffered … [but] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:5-7).
    Jay Adams recognizes the Christian’s duty to overlook petty offenses, citing some of these same texts. “But,” ADAM’s writes, “it is not … forgiveness.”
    Having defined forgiveness as a two-way transaction, Jay Adams has no room in his system for unilateral or unconditional forgiveness. So he draws a distinction between forgiveness and overlooking another’s transgression. If true, that would mean all the petty offenses we choose to overlook (or “cover,” in biblical terminology) are not really to be regarded as forgiven. But the Bible itself makes no such distinction. Covering another’s transgression is the very essence of forgiveness. Speaking of God’s forgiveness, Psalm 32:1 equates the concepts of forgiveness and the covering of sin: “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” This is a Hebrew parallelism, employing two different expressions to designate the same concept. To cover someone else’s sin is the very essence of forgiveness. Psalm 85:2 draws the same parallel: “You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin.” James 5:20 also equates forgiveness with the covering of sin: “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” So when 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” it is describing forgiveness. Furthermore, Scripture also teaches that forgiveness can be unilateral and unconditional. Mark 11:25-26 clearly speaks of this kind of forgiveness and even makes it a condition for receiving God’s forgiveness…”

    I would love your input on this. I just want to know what God’s Word says about this.

    In Christ,
    Mike

  84. Mike,

    No need to apologize for the length of your comment. Great stuff. I appreciate that you are working with good sources (beginning with the Bible).

    My main thought is that I think you are on the right track.

    You have pointed to an area where my chart could be more clear. Perhaps we could call the covering over of small offenses you mentioned “forgiveness” – — though why not just say what the Bible does? It feels as though you are the one trying to cram everything in neat categories. Surely, you are comfortable saying that overlooking an offense or letting love cover it is sufficient to move on.

    I do not disagree with MacArthur’s position. I am closer to MacArthur’s position than Adams’s – – – though I have to think about more.

    I don’t agree with you that Mark 11:24-25 necessarily points to unconditional forgiveness. I would interpret that in light of other passages like Luke 17.

    I think if you look it over carefully, you will see that my position is very, very similar to what Adams, Sande, MacArthur, etc teach. Interestingly, one of the criticisms of L. Gregory Jones book was that he did not define forgiveness. While it is an excellent book, how can you write an academic treatment of forgiveness and not at least take a shot at defining forgiveness?

    Given chapter 8, I am very surprised that you think I am ignoring passages like 1 Peter 4:8! But if you wrote a review of my book and talked through the sorts of things you did in your comment, then I would not think you are being unfair. It is clear that you are working hard at a biblical understanding of forgiveness as well as an appreciation of those who have written about it.

    Chris.

  85. It is clearly there in the core message of Jesus- both in parables and sayings. No more eye for eye (conditions, requirements, payback) but simply love your enemy. No pre-requisites for the offender to fulfill first before being forgiven of loved. Just lend, expecting nothing in return (no payment or making amends). And if you act like this you will be like the Father who also freely includes all, without exclusion or requirement (sun and rain, the good things given freely to all alike). No better term to describe this core message of Jesus except unconditional.
    I have detailed something of the history of these two approaches to human relating and understanding deity in my essay From Retaliation to Unconditional Love at http://www.wendellkrossa.com It points out the notable contradiction between Unconditional Jesus and Payback Paul.

  86. Wendell, are you a universalist? Do you believe all people spend eternity with Christ?

  87. Only the last of these five points is at all persuasive to me. Having read the points and considered them deeply, I am more deeply convinced than ever that unconditional forgiveness is the way of the Kingdom. If that leads me into some kind of undogmatic Universalism, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

  88. Thanks for interacting!

  89. Chris, I continue to follow this comment stream looking for more clarification and instruction. I’m still not where you are on it and I don’t think you are where the Bible is but one thing that you do in your articles, book and comments that knocks me off the tracks is what I think is a straw-man universalist argument.

    I believe that forgiveness is conditioned on what God did in Christ on Calvary for His people, period. So in that sense, I believe in unconditional forgiveness (on man’s part) and yet am not a universalist. Please don’t try to mis-characterize us who believe adding repentance to Christ’s finished work not only cheapens it but nullifies it (Rom 11:6) with universalists.

    Thanks, I’m continuing to follow the discussion with interest.

  90. Bobby, thanks for following along. You are entitled to disagree! But I don’t get how the position I take is a “straw man.” God’s forgiveness is conditioned on repentance / faith: consider John 3:36. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, otherwise the wrath of God remains on him.

    If you have read my book, then you know my position.

  91. I’ll try to splain it simply as I can. It seems that your conclusions are built on the presupposition that God’s forgiveness is conditional. My guess is that comes from a soteriology that believes Jesus acted for all men (universally) on Calvary. So when you say “forgive like God did” (Eph 4:32) since you think he forgave conditionally, then based on your apriori, we must also forgive conditionally. Then you see the texts confirming your apriori. So then based on that assumption you conclude that anyone who believes in unconditional forgiveness is a universalist because if God died for all and conditions their realizing that on their repentance in this alleged two way transaction where God does his part (die) and you do your part (repent/faith) then God transacts forgiveness… if he does it just for free with no work on your part then obviously you are a universalist. But the whole thing is based on the presupposition that Jesus died for all. Right?

    If however my apriori is “everyone that Jesus died for will be saved” then I only have one of two ways to go. One way is your strawman (I’m a universalist), the other is that I believe that Jesus only died for His own people. And that his death for them was not conditioned on anything except what happened on Calvary on their behalf. So for me, Eph 4:32 means ‘forgive unconditionally just like Christ forgave me’ and then I see the verses you mention differently as I made an effort to show previously, especially your proof txt in Luke 17.

    Different soteriology, different conclusion abt God’s forgiveness and about Eph 4:32

    Hope that helps explain how I see it as a strawman. What you see as an “obvious conclusion” is not so obvious to me who sees what happened on Calvary much differently.

  92. Thanks for trying! (Seriously) So do you think Jesus forgives everyone unconditionally?

  93. Bobby,

    You write ” I believe that Jesus only died for His own people. And that his death for them was not conditioned on anything except what happened on Calvary on their behalf.”

    Granted. But the elect must still actually respond to Christ’s death by faith through repentance. There will be no unsaved elect — but there will also be no unrepentant elect. Repentance and faith do not merit God’s forgiveness. But faith/repentance is the channel through which God’s saving grace flows. Faith and repentance are the means by which we lay hold of the forgiveness God has already provided. If our forgiveness is literally not conditioned by anything on our part — not even faith and forgiveness — then it’s hard to see how that isn’t universalism. Are you arguing that Jesus died for his people, who will definitely be his regardless of whether they believe and repent?

    No faith, no repentance, no forgiveness. Can you agree to that?

  94. Sorry – there’s a typo above. The sentence should read, “If our forgiveness is literally not conditioned by anything on our part — not even faith and repentance — then it’s hard to see how that isn’t universalism.”

  95. No. But I do believe that everyone Jesus forgives, he forgives unconditionally. His pardon is full and free and He can offer it based on what God transacted on Easter weekend on behalf of His church, His people.

  96. Jeff, yes the fruit of God’s forgiveness is repentance and faith. But the pardon is full and free.

  97. Yes, we agree that we don’t do anything to deserve God’s forgiveness. But must we lay hold of Christ by faith through repentance to be forgiven, or does God forgive regardless of our faith and repentance?

    Are there Christians who are saved and forgiven, but also unbelieving and unrepentant?

  98. I would say it this way; God does not grant repentance or faith or bring to life any expect those for whom Christ has freely, unconditonally pardoned on Calvary, but for all who have been forgiven, life is theirs.

  99. Bobby, that’s not what’s at issue. I will grant those assertions.

    The issue is this — to actually receive God’s forgiveness, must we repent?

  100. Jeff,

    I wonder if you are comfortable singing Toplady’s Rock of Ages? He wrote it specifically to refute the view you are putting forward in the form that it was put forward by the Wesley brothers – that repentance is part of the condition of justification. These two verses are a strong repudiation of such a view in favor of the Reformation’s ‘by grace alone through faith alone':

    Not the labor of my hands
    Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
    Could my zeal no respite know,
    Could my tears forever flow,
    All for sin could not atone;
    Thou must save, and Thou alone.

    Nothing in my hand I bring,
    Simply to Thy cross I cling;
    Naked, come to Thee for dress;
    Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
    Foul, I to the fountain fly;
    Wash me, Savior, or I die.

    Toplady was not a universalist. Neither was Calvin, neither were the overwhelming majority of the Reformed divines of the 16th and 17th centuries including the writers of the Westminster Confession of Faith. And they all reject repentance as a co-ordinate condition of justification alongside faith. Like Toplady, they (correctly) see such a notion as a return of a synergistic attempt to make my obedience to the law a precondition of my justification. They also all saw that repentance is absolutely necessary for a Christian and without it there can be no reasonable prospect of salvation.

    There is another option other than making repentance a condition or making it optional. It is saying that it is the necessary fruit of faith. You won’t find a believer who is not repentant, but their repentance is part of the gift of the gospel not a precondition for it. Repentance is the evidence that the person is ‘in Christ’. The faith that saves is never alone, but it is only the faith that saves.

    Seriously, I would hope that if we remove ‘repentance’ and replace it with ‘love’ or ‘good works’ you would immediately see the point where they are concerned – my love for God or my good works (both of which, like repentance, are generated by faith) are not the instrument with faith of my justification.

    But repentance, love, and good works are more or less different sides of the same coin. To make repentance part of the condition of forgiveness (alongside faith) is effectively to make good works and love for God part of the condition for forgiveness. And you might as well sign up to the Council of Trent if you think that.

  101. Mark,

    No doubt that repentance is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in us. So is faith. So I’m not sure why you’re trying to charge me with making repentance a “work” that we contribute. That’s not how the Bible sees repentance nor how the Reformers saw it. Here is WCF XV, for example:

    “I. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.

    II. By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.

    III. Although repentance is not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ, yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.”

    It seems that you are strongly affirming Arcticle III, while I am affirming both II and III.
    I’m agreeing with what the Reformers and the Bible say about repentance unto life. We can argue about the order of salvation. But I’m not sneaking repentance in as a “work” added to faith anymore than the Bible or the Reformers were.

    And I love “Rock of Ages” for a number of reasons. In it, I hear Toplady echoing Article III above – that tears, zeal, and works will not save us. But I also hear Article II, as faith and repentance are joined together seamlessly. For if I am flying to Christ, I am flying away from something else, just like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, or the tax collector at the Temple in Luke 18, or the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 — I see and repent of (turn away from, change my mind about) my sin, I see that I need to be saved, that there is nothing I can do to save myself, and by faith I lay hold of Christ.

    That’s not synergism. That’s saving faith.

  102. Jeff,

    I’m not charging you with *trying* to smuggle in works to add to faith. I’m saying that that is what happens if you make justification dependent upon repentance, irrespective of intention. And that that is what historical reformed thinking has fairly consistently said. It was one of the key things that the Reformation was over.

    You need to look at more than WCF XV for this. You need to also look at XIV Of Saviing Faith and especially XI Of Justification:

    I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies;[1] not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,[2] they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.[3]

    II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification:[4] yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.[5]

    Faith is the ALONE instrument of justification. Why is it? Because it is only faith that receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness. We don’t rest upon Christ and his righteousness when we repent – look again carefully at WCF XV.2 for its definition of what repentance is and you can see that resting on Christ is NOT part of the meaning of repentance.

    WCF is clear on this, it is not a matter of you emphasizing one bit of XV and me another. XI.2 Explicitly excludes anything else alongside faith as an instrument of justification – while noting that the faith that is the instrument will not be alone. Saving faith and repentance to life are in TWO DIFFERENT SECTIONS to indicate that they are different things. So if repentance is included with faith as an instrument of justification two things would be need:

    1. Its definition would need to have resting on Christ included – as that is how we receive justification, and the only way we do
    2. It would need to be explicitly included in XI.2 In the absence of this, and especially given how it exists in a different section to saving faith, it is excluded by the language of ‘alone instrument’ given to faith.

    There is also a hint in the names for the sections. ‘saving faith’ but not ‘saving repentance’ rather the more complex ‘repentance to life’. It is necessary for any expectation of pardon, but, and here is the language of XV.III repentance is not to be rested in as ANY cause of the pardon of sin. ‘Any’ cause, Jeff. Any. If the writers of WCF were trying to say that repentance is a co-ordinate cause of pardons of sins they were simply incompetent. Faith is the alone instrument of justification, repentance is necessary but is not to looked at any cause of pardon of sins. They say it twice, explicitly, in two different locations.

    Look carefully at XV.2 and then explain why you don’t see that definition of repentance as meaning that repentance is a work. What does repentance involve?

    1. turning from sins
    2. turning to God
    3. purposing to walk with God in all the ways of his commandments

    A repentant sinner is seeking to stop sinning and seeking to do what is right. That is pretty much the definition of genuine good works.

    So, does God justify us at least in part because we are trying to obey his commands? If we say justification is conditional on repentance alongside faith, then we are saying that it is conditional on trying to obey God’s commands alongside faith. And that is saying that it is conditional on doing some amount of good works – because it is a genuinely good thing we do to try and obey God’s commands.

    Whether or not it is Spirit wrought is beside the point. Catholicism believes its order of salvation is all Spirit wrought as well – that’s necessary but it is hardly the issue here.

  103. Mark,

    Perhaps there’s a misunderstanding rooted in differing definitions of repentance. You seem to come close to conflating repentance with sanctification, as a fruit of justification. That would make sense as to why you — against the reformers — see repentance as a good work. But I am not saying “stop sinning to be justified” or “change your life to be justified.” That would indeed be a Roman Catholic view of salvation.

    But I do see clearly in the Bible that a component of saving faith is metanoia, a change of mind. If I do not change my mind about my sin, if I continue to love and treasure my sin, rebellion, and idolatry, yet claim to trust in Christ, in what sense do I have saving faith? You brought up Toplady. If I do not see myself as foul, if I do not flee to Christ (and from what, I ask again), how am I saved?

    How can I be born again of the Spirit and not see my sin and hate it? That is repentance. God calls sinners in their sin to see their sin, hate it, and come to Christ. He is the one who enlivens and enables us to do so. It’s all his gracious work.

    So I’m not making repentance a work any more than than WCF XV.II does — it is an evangelical grace, an act of God’s free grace. But notice that repentance is found in sinners, and that God’s grace is extended to penitent sinners — not sinners who demonstrate a changed life, but sinners who show godly sorrow and regret over their sin. Can we at least agree that God does not extend grace to impenitent sinners?

    So again, I agree with XV.III — “repentance is not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ.” Why don’t I see repentance as a work? Because it’s there in black and white.

    I don’t know what else I can say to convince you that repentance is not a work that merits us anything before God. I am still concerned about the kind of faith you would have people rest in that does not include turning from sin (in my heart at first; in my life, progressively) to Christ.

    This whole discussion started with Chris’ assertion that there is no forgiveness without repentance. I again affirm and restate what WCF XV.III makes clear: repentance “is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.” No repentance = no pardon.

    Grace and peace to you.

  104. Hi Jeff,

    I agree that part of the issue between us is a difference on what repentance is. I’m not conflating repentance and sanctification, but certainly seeing them as intrinsically related – as both Calvin does in the Institutes, and the WCF does, hence why it entitles the relevant section ‘repentance unto life’, and why it includes both mortification of sin and an orientation to obey God’s commands as part of the definition of repentance. They are both part of sanctification, and they are both part of repentance, because there is an intrinsic link between sanctification and repentance.

    And if you said ‘stop sinning to be justified’ that would not be Roman Catholic – not even Catholicism holds that such a thing is possible (except possibly for their saints). If you have only a straw man view of Catholicism then it is easy to make anything not be Catholic. Seeing something as an evangelical grace does not keep something from being a work. Love for God is an evangelical grace, sanctification is an evangelical grace, genuine obedience to God’s commands is an evangelical grace – they are all the effect of the Spirit’s work in a sinner’s life, they are all fruit of having received the gospel. Good works are not opposed to evangelical grace unless they are being used as a basis for our justification. Good works are, when genuine good works, an evangelical grace – a gift of the gospel, something the gospel makes possible.

    As to whether the Reformers saw repentance as a ‘work’, I would again argue that they did. They were thoroughly Augustinian and, building on Luther’s Freedom of a Christian had internalized Augustine’s distinction between what God commands and what God gives. They grasped that repentance is orientated towards what God commands: if you are not doing what God commands then repentance is to begin doing that again. Faith is orientated to what God gives – and as everything God has to give salvation wise is given in Christ, faith is resting in Christ alone for salvation.

    You haven’t responded to my points about the actual language of the Westminster Confession of Faith. You acknowledge that it calls repentance an evangelical grace, and yet have not explained why it says that faith is the alone instrument of justification – and does so while acknowledging that saving faith is accompanied by all evangelical graces (of which repentance is one). So repentance occurs with faith, but is not an instrument of justification. They make the same point when discussing repentance – you must have repentance but it is not *any* cause of pardon of sins. *any* cause – which must include *instrumental* cause for it to be *any*. How do you explain this language? And where is any statement in support of your view?

    Yes, you must see yourself as sinful in order to have faith. But in classical reformed thinking that self-despair was a pre-condition of faith, not in itself faith. It was the product of the second use of the law – which reformed thinking after the Reformation saw as a necessary precondition before faith was a psychological possibility for a sinner. The law must first bring you to an end of yourself before the heart will be ready to reach out in faith in Christ and rest in him. But in itself it is neither repentance nor faith – you could die in this state and not be saved.

    Part of the problem is that making repentance a condition of justification doesn’t just make justification based on our works – our desire to start obeying God – it also scales down what genuine repentance is as well (which is also the two effects it has in Catholicism). Repentance is not just turning from sin and turning to Christ (although it is both of those) it is also seeking to walk with God in obeying his commands – which means it must be connected to works. You never mention that part of it in the several paragraphs where you discuss repentance, you only pick up two out of the three components in WCF XV.2
    Does God forgive the impenitent? No. But their tears could for ever flow and it would not be an instrument of their justification. But we could ask: Does God forgive those who do not love God? No. But their love, no matter how bright it shines is no cause of their pardon of sins.

    Your questions miss the mark because you don’t see WCF’s language – faith is accompanied by every evangelical grace. So justification will only be present in someone who has every evangelical grace. But out of all those graces, only one is the instrument of justification. And that is faith. Faith *alone* saves. Faith is accompanied by every evangelical grace – so if there is no repentance there can be no hope of pardon. But repentance must not be looked to as *any* cause of pardon – any cause. Any. Any. Any.

    You are falling into the Catholic problem of thinking that if repentance is not a cause of justification then it is optional, and so you ask me questions about a justification that does not lead to sanctification. But repentance is still necessary if it is the effect of justification – if being united to Christ by faith alone leads to both justification and repentance to life. Which is pretty much Calvin’s argument in his Reply to Sadoleto when Cardinal Sadoleto made much the same argument as you are making here.

    in Christ,
    Mark

  105. Mark,

    I’m not really interested in spending any more time parsing Calvin or Westminster. While I am deeply thankful for the reformers, their legacy, and their insights, they were fallible men who were responding to the challenges of their day. I’m not especially concerned whether what in see in the Bible as repentance agrees with what’s in WCF, as it’s not the final authority for faith and life. I brought up WCF only to say I think there’s evidence there to support Chris’ original assertion that without repentance there is no forgiveness.

    I think we’re talking past each other, and the conversation has become circular. You are repeating statements from WCF which I either agree with wholeheartedly or which do not directly address the issue I’m raising. I see a distinction between the root and the fruits of repentance. It seems to me that you’re conjoining them (as WCF seems to), and then accusing me of making the root of active, practical repentance a work, a cause of justification, or a merit — none of which I’m doing. I’m asserting that without the root of repentance — the metanoia of which the Bible speaks — there is no saving faith. That seems obvious to me from examples like the tax collector in Luke 18, the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, or Toplady who sees himself as foul and flies to Christ. That’s metanoia – a change of mind about myself and my sin.

    Of course there’s a difference between worldly sorrow (brought by the law) that leads to death and godly sorrow (wrought by the Spirit) that leads to repentance and salvation (2Cor. 7:10). I’m certainly not arguing that worldly sorrow (fear of punishment with no faith and no turning to Christ) is repentance.

    I agree that faith alone is the instrumental cause of our justification. The discussion we’re having is over the nature of that faith and whether a faith that does not hate sin and flee to Christ (in Toplady’s words) can save.

    If I do not change my mind about my sin, if I love and treasure my sin, rebellion, and idolatry, yet claim to have faith in Christ, I do not think that biblically I have saving faith. If I do not see myself as foul, if I do not flee to Christ (in Toplady’s words, which assume I am fleeing from something), I am not justified.

    As far as my not understanding Catholic theology, I will ask for charity as you read my comments. Roman Catholic theology does indeed teach that we will not be saved unless and until we are inherently righteous, i.e., unless there is no more sin in us. I may receive the grace of justification, but I will also lose it if I fall into sin. Then I must receive more grace and perform works of satisfaction to merit justification. Unless I die in a sinless state, I will not go to heaven but will go either to hell or to purgatory to have the stains of my sins purged. That’s what I meant by my shorthand of “stop sinning to be saved.”

    I think we’ve both made our positions clear, and I don’t think there’s much good to be had by continuing to restate our positions. Grace and peace to you.

  106. Can I get us back to forgiveness. That’s really my interest in working almost exclusively with the raped and traumatized.

    Gonna try a different tact:

    God commanded Lazarus to “Come forth” when he was dead.
    God commanded a man “stretch forth your hand” when he could not.
    Peter said “Rise up and walk” to a man who could not and…
    while “we had no strength, Christ died for the ungodly”.

    Without any question Lazarus couldn’t have come forth unless he obeyed the command. But inherent in the word “come forth” was the power to obey it (the words I speak to you are spirit and they are life).

    In like manner inherent in the gospel is the power to obey Jesus’ command to “repent and believe the gospel”.

    But Lazarus didn’t come forth ‘because’ he obeyed and the man with the withered hand didn’t stretch it out because he obeyed nor the lame man at the temple. If this had been the case obedience would have caused the life in Lazurus’ body, the life in the lifeless a rm and the life in the crippled leg. The life was in Jesus, granted for free by grace… Lazarus’ coming forth was the evidence that the life had been given back to him.

    We are justified freely by his grace not because we repent and obey.

    In like manner forgiveness begets repentance, but we are not forgiven because we repent.

  107. Hi Jeff,

    I agree that both our positions have now been made reasonably clear, and will return you to cross swords with Bobby. I’ll just make a couple of final observations in my swansong comment to parallel yours.

    Of course you are free to disagree with WCF, Calvin, the Reformed divines of the 16th to 18th centuries (and many after) and the like in favor of what you see the Bible says. Just make sure you are clear to people that your position on this is not the historic Reformed view – and it is a view that historical Reformed theology was very opposed to (it is hard to find many other things in WCF that is dealt with twice like this). *Don’t* claim it is the Reformed view. I’d say that to Chris as well. A view that makes God’s forgiveness conditional on repentance+faith rather than faith alone is fatal to the whole structure of classical Reformed theology on the Christian life. Changing faith so that faith also includes repentance (so that ‘justification through faith’ becomes justification by faith + repentance while still pretending to uphold faith alone), rather than keeping the two as separate but never existing without the other, is fatal to a biblical view of faith. Keeping repentance separate but then including it as a second condition of forgiveness is a denial of justification by grace through faith alone. By all means hold your view if that’s what you read the Bible to say. Just don’t say your view is their view.

    “My” position has what you indicate you want me to agree with – no-one with saving faith will be unrepentant. Saving faith is accompanied by repentance. If there is no repentance there is no justification, because repentance is a *sign* that justification (or Chris and Bobby’s preferred term, forgiveness) has occurred. So, if all you and Chris is saying is that, then there is no need to invoke claims of universalism and the like for classical reformed thinking.

    But it clearly is not all you and Chris are saying. Repentance as a necessary fruit of faith and a sign of forgiveness already received is not enough for either of you. You don’t like charges of Catholicism but you want the right to make charges of universalism. Chris wants to outline an entire doctrine of our forgiveness of each other based on repentance as a condition of God’s forgiveness. It is worth looking again at the Institutes and the WCF to see *why* those people were so concerned with your position. That’s not elevating people over Scripture, but it is using them to help you think about Scripture afresh.

    On your distinction between the root and fruit of repentance, I think it is worth reconsidering the value of the older understanding. When God calls on people to repent, he has in mind more than simply a change of mind. The strength of the older way of thinking is that it encompasses the whole of the Biblical language – turn from sin, turn to God, walk in his ways. When God calls someone to repent he is calling on them to do the whole thing. That’s why Calvin says that the entire course of the Christian life from coming to new life through to final breath can legitimately be called repentance.

    And when you have such an understanding, the distinction between ‘root’ and ‘fruit’ can’t do enough work to avoid the problems I’ve outlined. You either, without realizing it, keep bringing notions of obedience and love for God into the conditions for forgiveness; or you have to make repentance look fairly non-moral in its shape – it is a turning from sins that does not involve mortification, and it is a turning to God that does not involve seeking to obey his commands. Either repentance is narrowed to something more like Catholic penitence, or God only justifies those who have taken the first step to being godly rather than justifying the ungodly. Often, it ends taking a bite from both ends (just as it does in Catholicism) in the effort to not go ‘too far’ down either direction. Justification by grace through faith alone, with repentance as a necessary fruit of saving faith cut the whole gordian knot.

    Thanks for the conversation, and may the grace of God be with you.

    In Christ,
    Mark

  108. Is forgiveness something you give to someone else or is it something you give your self, Can anyone forgive you but yourself. And to forgive someone is not to condone there actions. To forgive them is to stop their actions leading to further pain within yourself.

  109. Hi Matthew – – You ask if “forgiveness” is something we give to someone else – – or if it is something we give ourselves – – I would answer that neither of your alternatives is precise. Rather, forgiveness is something that happens between two parties. It’s more like a handshake or a hug than a feeling.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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    [...] 5 Problems With Unconditional Forgiveness — Should Christians forgive others unconditionally? Chris Brauns explains why  the answer must be “no” in this short post based on his book Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds. (HT: Head Heart Hand) [...]

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