Should Christians Always Forgive? Conditional Forgiveness or Unconditional?

Chris —  June 7, 2013
Conditional Forgiveness is the position which best fits with what the Bible teaches on Christian forgiveness.

Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns

The question of whether or not Christians should forgive conditionally or unconditionally is one of the first that comes up when unpacking forgiveness. I wrote a great deal about conditional forgiveness in Unpacking Forgiveness – — I won’t rehash my argument here – – though links are available below.

However, I recently came across a post by Kevin Lewis of Biola University. In response to an email inquiry, Lewis shares some helpful thoughts on whether or not Christian forgiveness should be conditional or unconditional.

Email Inquiry

Recently, I was reading Dr. Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (IVP press 2008). When commenting on Matthew 6:12-13, he writes,

“It is a common human assumption that the violator of the rights of others must ask for forgiveness before the wronged party can be expected to accept the apology and grant forgiveness…But Jesus here asks the person wronged to forgive the one responsible for the wrongdoing when when there is no confession of guilt… There is a voice from the cross that echoes across history to all saying ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Neither Pilate nor the high priest nor the centurion offered any apology to Jesus, yet he prayed for divine forgiveness…(p.125)”

Response to Inquiry:

Regarding Bailey’s comments on Matthew 6:12, he errs by not considering the theological context of this statement and fails to consider any implied biblical conditions for forgiveness inherent in the statement.  The text simply does not mean what he says it means.  He is reading too much into the statement.

Bailey states, “Jesus here asks the person wronged to forgive the one responsible for the wrongdoing when there is no confession of guilt…”

Bailey errs.  Here, Jesus is giving a model for prayer commensurate with the way His Kingdom works.  Jesus teaches them to pray:  “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  This is a statement of the objective, “forgiveness,” without a discussion of any express or implied conditions to accomplish the objective. It is also a statement of the proper attitude of the Christian, that is, that we must have a demeanor of being willing to forgive, just as God was willing to forgive us.  Bailey’s assertion that there is no “confession of guilt” or repentance is merely an unwarranted assumption.

Moreover, the use of “as” (Grk. hos) in the passage introduces a comparison between the way we forgive and the way God forgives.  This comparative phraseology is employed elsewhere on the subject of forgiveness.  For example, Ephesians 4:32 states that we should be “forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven” us.  Here, the comparative “just as” (Grk. kathos) is employed and indicates our forgiveness is to be just like God’s forgiveness of us, which flows from a loving disposition.  So in the same manner that God forgives, we must forgive.  We are to be “imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1).  See also Matthew 5:48 and Luke 6:36 for exhortations to imitate God.

Read the rest here.

On forgiveness, see also:

The Forgiveness Quiz

Others on Unconditional Forgiveness
Is Forgiveness Always Right and Required? by Justin Taylor

Slowing Down the Runaway Forgiveness Train: Is there such a thing as too much mercy? by Scot McKnight

As We Forgive Our Debtors a sermon by John Piper

I Faced My Killer Again by Chris Carrier: A Christian shares the Gospel with a man who stabbed him, shot him in the head, and left him for dead. In connection with Chris Carrier’s amazing story, see Leonard Pitt’s column, God is in the Rain, Not the Thunder

Amish Extend Hand to Family of Schoolhouse Killer

Scott and Janet Willis willing to meet with imprisoned Governor Ryan – Story on my blog of Scott and Janet Willis who lost six children in a fiery mini-van accident due, in part, to corruption in government.

5 Problems With Unconditional Forgiveness

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?

Didn’t Jesus Forgive Unconditionally on the Cross


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