A year or more ago, I began writing a book on forgiveness.
Oh wow, is it funny!
And it rips apart most people’s views on forgiveness.
Because most people have it all wrong.
I’m nothing if not a Master of Correction.
What I Found
I looked at the marketplace and saw, oh, perhaps this is an exaggeration, but about 42 billion titles on forgiveness and not one of them understood the subject. Not one of them knew what God’s Word has to say about forgiveness.
So I figured I should rebuke them, correct their wrongs, not forgive the damage those authors did, and wipe the dust off my shoes as I move on down the road, taking as many people who want to know what God has to say on such an important topic with me.
It’s not finished, but I decided to post the first several pages below.
The Start of a Book That Might be a Game Changer for You:
Don’t You Dare Forgive Me!
(Because I’m Not Sorry for Writing This Book)
(c)2016 By Greg Perry, The Merchant of Truth
Allow Me to Shake and Bake Your
World of Forgiveness
To err is human, to forgive divine.
—ALEXANDER POPE, An Essay on Criticism
To forgive in error is human but never divine.
—GREG PERRY, Don’t You Dare Forgive Me!
Jokes don’t begin with punch lines, they end with punch lines. The better the joke, the more effort a joke teller exerts to save the punch line until the very end. This book is no joke although I might tell you a few.
Rarely does a mystery reveal the criminal’s true identity – with apologies to Detective Columbo’s show of course – until the ending chapter, the last paragraph, and maybe not even until the final word. God’s Word is not a detective novel.
The nature of forgiveness should not be a mystery to us. God explains it clearly for us in Scripture. We can listen to a lot of people talk about forgiveness, but I want to read what God said and describe here what He says about forgiveness. Most books that expose societal or theological errors do so slowly, building a case as the reader’s investment in the book grows page by page. You won’t find the conclusion stated clearly in the Introduction of most books.
This book is a rare one indeed.
The purpose of this book is an attempt to correct one of the most insidious evils that has permeated all of Christendom for the past 2000 years and especially the past 65. To do so means I’ll reveal the conclusion before we begin. Many people won’t like my conclusion. Those who don’t probably won’t finish the book and they certainly will not forgive me.
I ask those who dislike my conclusion to read further into the book, gain evidence where you see me err, and prove me mistaken.
Here is the punch line:
The Punch Line:
Not only is it wrong to forgive someone who is unrepentant but to do so is to sin against God, your fellow man, and yourself.
The Cries of Heresy Have Started
But does the Bible really teach that we should never, ever forgive someone who sinned against us if they remain unrepentant? What about a white lie a friend tells us? What about a little theft against us? What about adultery by a spouse? What about thousands of Americans being slaughtered on a September morning in 2001? What about 6 million Jews obliterated by a Darwin-worshipping dictator?
What about the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Messiah, being sinless and blameless, and yet while being crucified by unrepentant murderers, He cried out, “Father, forgive them.” They were not repentant. Isn’t that the only model of forgiveness we need?
We’re going to explore all that.
This book’s punch line above is a fire-spitting premise in many (most) Christian circles today. Christians have been spoon-fed a watered-down Christianity for so long without cracking open their Bibles that they are steeped in Christian clichés such as Forgive everybody no matter what. Another favorite is Forgiveness is always one-sided. You’ll also hear a similar lie that Forgiveness has nothing to do with the one who sinned against you and everything to do with you.
The same Christians who believe those myths have absolutely no idea what God says about most topics they face every day. God deserves to be listened to first. If you then don’t want to do what He says that’s your call but at least it’s a more honest approach than acting as if you know what He says about a most vital issue – forgiveness – without finding out what He actually tells us to do first.
The Tone of This Book’s Writing – Caustic or Paul-Like?
You can already tell this book doesn’t hesitate to make its point and to take aim all along the way at Christians. The majority of Christians are the biggest enemy of true Christianity on earth today because we have fallen asleep. It is we who have allowed the world to take over our battles on forgiveness, sin, abortion, and other topics. We should have stood firm and not allowed others to take the reins.
We lost our boldness somewhere along the way. Sadly, this lack of boldness started two thousand years ago with Paul’s friends in Corinth (1 Cor 3:2). Paul said they couldn’t handle the meat of the Word so he had to give his church milk. They were spiritual babies and we get the sense they were willful in their ignorance. They were like babies who did not want the truths in God’s Word so Paul said they could only handle the milk, in other words, weak baby-like teaching.
Dorothy Sayers wrote in 1949 that Christians in her day were “sissyfiers of Christ.” We see that blatant emasculation of the Gospel most clearly in today’s forgiveness doctrines. Christians are too quick to forgive. We forgive not to follow Jesus’ principles but just to appease our own selfish feelings. We forgive without cause to improve our own image. We discount the cost to others as long as we feel good about ourselves.
Other Christians who forgive without cause do so out of guilt. They’ve made the mistake of reading the countless books on one-sided, sinful forgiveness. They’ve listened to Christian teachers and preachers tell them ad nauseam to forgive without cause. In spite of the fact that forgiving an unrepentant sinner goes against the very nature of God, goes against crystal-clear Scripture, and goes against their own sense of justice, the mountains of writings and preachings telling them to forgive without repentance is too coercive; they give in and forgive. In doing so they harm themselves and everybody around them.
The goal of those who forgive without cause is to be nice. Douglas Wilson was the first to publish nationally the phrase, “Nicer than God.” Christians don’t like how mean they think God is so they go about trying to one-up God in the Nice Department. They want to be so nice in fact that the cost of harming others in the process is acceptable collateral damage. They just do not care about the destruction they leave in their wake of sinful forgiveness.
Harsh? You bet.
My Forgiving Background
I began being convinced that today’s Christians approach forgiveness incorrectly several years ago when I helped produce and sometimes guest hosted a national Christian television talk show. The show stressed a strong warning not to forgive others if they have not repented. I’d never heard that before! Most Christians haven’t either although Jesus states everything clearly in Luke. But that was only the start of my search for accurately forgiving – and not forgiving – others.
Why we believe unscriptural and weak teachers and preachers as well as the world’s lies, in contrast to clear Scripture, has been our problem for the 6,000 years man has existed.
Although this subject was not strong in my radar at the time, I visited a little church in Commerce City, Colorado called Derby Bible Church while in Denver in the late 1990s. The subject of forgiveness was taught that morning only this time the subject hit me like a brick. A sermon about the right and wrong ways to forgive was taught by Pastor Bob Hill, easily the most influential Pastor I have ever heard in my life. The way Pastor Hill taught forgiveness spoke directly to me and from that point forward I was convinced of many things about forgiveness that I never knew before. Many other Christians didn’t know Scripture’s clear teachings either.
Pastor Hill, now retired, would be the first to insist that I prove anything he said with Scripture and in the years that followed that is exactly what I’ve done. The issue of forgiveness has become a flagship issue with me.
The reason it’s so important is not what most people teach. The reason it’s so important is not what hundreds of books on forgiveness have taught before. The reason it’s so important to understand the Biblical instructions on forgiving others is this:
Too much forgiveness has helped to destroy the church in the world today.
You read that correctly.
Before you dismiss me as a kook, you need to do the following: disprove me with Scripture if you can. I believe I make my case with Scripture as the strong and only foundation for my beliefs and insights into forgiveness. If you disagree with me, it’s incumbent upon you to do two things:
- Use Scripture and not your feelings and not what you’ve heard other Christians say to show me where I’m wrong.
- Don’t tell me I have to forgive if for no other reason than to release my own bitterness that might be inside me. That would be selfishly petty if I put my problems ahead of the person I damage by forgiving him unscripturally. In this book, I show you several times where forgiving to eliminate your own bitterness and anger and pent-up emotion is completely unscriptural. There are ways to release bitterness and you should release your bitterness; but not by forgiveness if forgiveness is uncalled for.
God is smarter than all of us and I only care about what He says about the subject, not what 1,000 books about forgiveness before this one says. It’s my hope and prayer that you care far more about what He says than about what I say. So prove me wrong if you can – but use the Sword of the Lord to do so, or else I will not repent and I certainly will not forgive you for not trying.
– Greg Perry
So What is Forgiveness Exactly?
The five-year-old had apparently trained her younger sister. For, as the congregation recited the Lord’s Prayer, there came in clear—and loud—young voices from the pew behind me, “ … And forgive us our trash passes as we forgive those who pass trash against us.”
Let’s define the single, most critical term in the book: Forgiveness. We all basically know what it means, right? Still, it’s always helpful to be on the same page (especially in a book!) so defining a few simple terms helps our communication greatly.
Merriam-Webster looks at forgiveness this way:
for•give•ness \-forˈgiv-nəs\ noun
the act of forgiving
That is circular enough and not much help for our purpose. So let’s dig deeper. If forgiveness is the act of forgiving, let’s ask Merriam and Webster what forgiving is.
1 : willing or able to forgive
2 : allowing room for error or weakness
The first entry isn’t much better than the previous definition but the second adds some spice. When we are forgiving, are we allowing for error or weakness in others? That kind of forgiving is easy! “Well, I forgive him since he is just wrong and weak.”
Such forgiveness is not actually forgiveness. A genuine forgiving statement never puts down the other party. Fortunately, Merriam-Webster added an example to explain the second entry a little better: “… designed to be a forgiving tennis racquet.” So in that sense, an object can be forgiving if it enables its use even during sloppy handling. “My word processor is forgiving in that I can misspell words and it instantly corrects many of my mistakes.”
That form of forgiveness is basically the same meaning as being flexible. If that was the only definition of forgiveness you wouldn’t be reading this book and countless other volumes about forgiveness would never have been written. (You will forgive me when I tell you that you don’t need those other countless volumes since you have this one.) So let’s move from that definition of forgiveness as being flexible. We know instinctively that there is another meaning of forgiveness that we need to get a handle on. We need to understand forgiveness as it applies person-to-person.
So let’s go back the first definition for forgiving that reads, “willing or able to forgive.”
It appears we need to go one step further and see how Merriam-Webster defines forgive:
for•give \fər-ˈgiv, fȯr-\ verb
1 a : to give up resentment of or claim to requital for 〈forgive an insult〉
b : to grant relief from payment of 〈forgive a debt〉
2 :to cease to feel resentment against (an offender) : pardon〈forgive one’s enemies〉
Now we’re getting somewhere!
According to Merriam-Webster, we forgive someone when we release our resentment against another who has harmed us or we release an indebtedness of some kind against us. We might forgive someone in much the same way that a loan officer might pardon, forgive, or outright ignore a missed loan payment.
Let’s move from a financial explanation to more of a spiritual explanation. As it is clearly written, “Be thou more spiritual.”
Let’s Get Spiritual!
What is the true problem with forgiveness? When is forgiveness really an issue and actually a cause of concern (and even heated debate once people read this book)? Generally, forgiveness is an issue when one person wrongs another. A harm whether it be physical, emotional, or property-related (theft or damage) has occurred. The offender has wronged the offended. The perpetrator (the one who performed the harmful act) has in some way damaged the victim.
Please Forgive This Interruption
In spite of the disastrous and growing surge of unmerited, phony victimhood in the world, the term “victim” is an accurate representation in this context of forgiveness. When somebody is truly wronged by another, that person is rightly called a victim of that specific act.
(By the way the Bible never ever says, “Be thou more spiritual.” I just made that up. I should repent.)
In general, few would probably argue with this definition. Few would probably disagree with the ramifications that forgiveness is a full release of an offense against us. For true forgiveness to take place in our hearts and minds we must make a complete emotional and mental shift, a 180-degree change. We must – as best we can given the nature of the harm against us – we must truly view the wrongdoing as though it never happened.
Is this possible? Most writings about forgiveness say yes and we have little room to argue. From a Godly perspective, He forgets our sins. Our God cannot lie, so we must conclude that He truly no longer has any thought of any sin of ours that He has forgiven. Our forgiven sins are as far from God as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12).
Please Forgive This Interruption
Do you ever wonder why God didn’t say as far as the north is from the south? There’s a good reason.
Consider an airplane leaving the north pole to travel around the south pole and back. The moment the plane leaves, the plane’s direction is south. But the moment that plane crosses the south pole to return, without physically changing course, that plane is heading north. The north has a fixed distance from the south when viewed on a global, earthly scale which is a good way to view it.
Consider on its next flight, that plane starts somewhere on the Equator and begins to fly around the world. Heading due east, the plane circles the globe, staying on the Equator the entire way. Which direction is the plane heading after flying a quarter of the way around the earth? East. Which direction is the plane heading after flying halfway around the earth? East. What direction is the plane flying just 15 seconds before coming right back where it started? East.
In other words, you can fly north and instantly be heading south just halfway through your trip around the world. But you will never, ever reach west if you start flying east.
God sure is smart. He lets us know that forgiven sins are a very long way from us, so long that we can consider them infinitely far away – just as east is infinitely far away from the west.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Your Desire (or Lack of Desire) to Forgive
Should you want to forgive when somebody harms you? At first, while the wound is still fresh perhaps you will not but eventually you should yearn for the opportunity to forgive your Christian brother or sister. The Body of Christ is a corporal entity; when one part of the Body is hurt the entire Body is hurt.
Giving up the resentment caused by harm against you is a freeing experience. Such is a bonding experience that often finds both parties stronger than they were before the harm was done. Proper forgiveness can strengthen a relationship and cement the Body of Christ even further.
As a believer your primary goal should always be to further the healthy propagation and expansion of the Body of Christ. This means when a believer harms you in any way, your forgiveness is a healing bandage that restores the Body.
That is, as long as you forgive in a Godly way and not in a selfish way.
Let us stress once again that most teachings about forgiveness are nothing but selfish teachings. UnGodly forgiveness damages the Body more than not forgiving in the first place.
Repent and Be Cleansed
The term repent would be useful to look at because forgiveness and repentance go together like Mom and apple pie.
Merriam-Webster says this:
re•pent \ri-ˈpent\ verb
1 : to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life
2 a : to feel regret or contrition
b : to change one’s mind
The person doing the wrong has absolutely no need to forgive the victim. Until harm has been done to do the wrongdoer, there is nothing he has to forgive. It is incumbent upon the wrongdoer not to forgive but to repent, apologize, and change his tune about the whole matter, with possible restitution of some kind often being appropriate too.
When somebody is sorry for wronging another, that person has a true reversal of their original thoughts, actions, and deeds. When somebody lies to you but later is repentant, he or she feels terrible that they lied. He or she wishes the lie had never been said. He or she tells you how sorry, or demonstrates true repentance in ways that might often be more than just talk.
Repentance is not just emotional and verbal. Repentance can be physical. If somebody steals from you and later truly regrets the theft, that thief might not only tell you what he did, he might not only say he is sorry, he might not just ask for your forgiveness, but when truly repentant he will return what he stole. If what he stole is damaged in any way, he will buy a new one and insist that you take that.
You know this book’s punch line: that offering forgiveness without repentance is wrong and unbiblical. Although that has not yet been proved, it’s our premise throughout this text. And it will be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt – only those whom Christians Douglas Wilson called “Nicer than God” Christians will still doubt. “Nicer than God” Christians never believe Scripture or like what it says.
We need to go one step further and say this: repentance should be Biblical just as forgiveness is.
The Bible is not just a love book. The Bible is many things. For one thing the Bible is a war manual. A spiritual battle is taking place right now and you are one of the key prizes being fought for. Also, the Bible is a criminal justice handbook. In both testaments, God tells governing authorities how to institute criminal justice. God’s criminal justice laws never change between testaments. God’s criminal justice policies remain in place from the Pentateuch to Revelation. Some symbolic laws are fulfilled by Christ but not the criminal laws.
Did you know, for example, that the Bible tells governments how to implement restitution laws?
When repentance is backed up by physical evidence, you have further proof that the one who sinned against you is sorry and wants to restore the relationship. Such is nice to see. Physically showing your repentance is not always possible – for example, someone who hurts you may have done so to such a degree that no amount of money spent on medical bills will restore your health. Others who hurt you physically or in other ways may be truly repentant but not have the means to restore you or might not even think to do so. Still, the Bible does not demand anything extra for repentance other than a change of heart and mind. You should not require more for forgiveness either. You must use discernment to know when someone is repentant; but knowing that physical evidence of repentance only serves to strengthen repentance now means that when you harm someone and are later sorry, you should consider showing your repentance in some physical way if possible.
Please Forgive This Interruption
The restitution laws are so wonderful in that the person actually harmed gains the restitution, not a nameless, faceless, useless, third-party government. The government should never profit from crime. Anything the government profits from it always promotes.
Scripture tells us that no ransom for a life is to be taken, but in our system the government makes big bucks on murder, from the prison profits to years that murderers spend on Death Row. And the saddest thing about Death Row is that far more die from old age than from a swiftly instituted death penalty. No repentance comes from slow justice; repentance comes from swift justice, from people who learn they are going to die in 24 hours. Instead, with our system, Death Row inmates get more bitter over the years and not more repentant.
If you have to repay a person you stole from, and you apply Biblical restitution principles (from 100 to 500 percent of the value you stole depending on the circumstances), then the person you stole from is far more likely to forgive you if you are also repentant. That person has been harmed, but to the extent you harmed him – the theft – you make him more than whole through your restoration. The restitution laws are for the government to implement. They were not symbolic laws to separate Israel. If our government’s laws truly were founded on Biblical principles – instead of just said to be founded on them – far fewer people would commit crimes and those who do stand a far better chance of repentance and those harmed stand a far better chance to forgive. God’s ways are smart.
Now We Know the Terms – So What?
Defining forgiveness and repentance is not enough.
There is a lie the world tells so often most people believe it. That lie is that education is the answer to making the world better. If that was true, then no doctor or nurse would ever smoke. No lawyer would ever break the law.
The truth is that education is not the answer. The truth is that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Therefore, knowing the definitions of forgiveness and repentance is not enough. The only thing that matters is how God views forgiveness and repentance. That’s what we’ll focus on from this point forward. We must understand what the Bible says about forgiveness. Did you know that the Bible tells us exactly how to forgive and under which specific circumstances we are to forgive another? Mostly, the Bible goes directly against the pop psychology books and the Christian forgiveness books when it comes to forgiveness.
When the world and pop psychology books agree with Christians, almost always the Christians are wrong on the issue. The world is always wrong on issues because the god of this world is Satan. So when Christians agree with the world then Christians should almost always re-think their position.
Sadly, many Christians agree with the world when it comes to forgiveness. Most Christians agree with pop psychology books when it comes to forgiveness. Most Christians don’t know what God has to say on the matter. Before this book is done, you will know what God says.
So why do I know so much more than pop psychology books and most Christian counselors? I dare say I know far less than most of them. But I do know what God says about forgiveness and they either don’t know or don’t care what He says. I want you to care more about what God says than they say or than what I say. So the rest of this book is a prescription for forgiveness that you can apply in a healthy, Biblical, Godly way.
Forgiveness is Often a Sin
“I love to sin. God loves to forgive sin. Really, this world is admirably arranged.” — HEINRICH HEINE
Mr. Heine speaks for the world! And in that context, he is accurate and honest. The problem is that he also speaks for a vast majority of Christians.
As with most misleading statements, there is partial truth in Heine’s saying. Heine loves to sin and God especially loves to forgive sin. God loves a repentant heart. The problem is that God never forgives an unrepentant heart. Hundreds of writings about forgiveness tell us to forgive even unrepentant hearts and people often do that very thing. It makes us far more pious than we might otherwise be. That is a nice feeling. We love feeling good about ourselves even at the detriment of others. We love feeling good about ourselves so we can show others how spiritual we really are.
But God never forgives unconditionally and He tells us never to do so. But the Bible was written 2,000 years ago. Perhaps we’ve evolved! Perhaps we now know how to be so much better than God ever dreamed of being.
Before you continue and possibly get angry with me for teaching that unconditional forgiveness is a sin, let me ask you a serious question. Which of the following describes you?
- You want to live the way you think the Bible says to live.
- You want to live the way the Bible says to live.
What if I had not given you the second choice? The first statement then seems reasonable and it seems Holy. “I want to live the way I think the Bible says to live.” The problem with that statement is that it really doesn’t matter what you, or I, or a thousand theologians think. What matters is what God thinks. And to make sure we know what He thinks, He inspired a bunch of guys to write down His thoughts, words, deeds, and instructions.
You and I have no excuse to live the way we think we should live. We have an obligation to live the way the Bible tells us to live.
But the Bible Can Be So Confusing!
Given how thick the Bible is, how can we be expected to understand every dotted i and crossed t in it? Using the dotted i’s and crossed t’s of Jesus’ day, how can we hope to understand every jot and tittle of God’s Word? After all, the liberals in the world who hate God teach us that what is right for one person is not necessarily right for another. Now when it comes to the kind of cupcake you prefer that is certainly true. But that teaching is certainly not true for any moral issue.
When it comes to morality, what is right for one person is right for all. What is wrong for one person is wrong for all.
If every word in Scripture were crystal clear to everyone who read it, you wouldn’t see many books on theology in the annals of book publishing. Certain aspects of Scripture can be tough. Look at the disagreements on the end times and the Rapture – or the lack of a Rapture. Scripture tells us more details about hell than Heaven; a detailed description of Heaven is not in the Bible so how are we to know exactly what Heaven will be like? Other areas of theology and doctrine are certainly open to interpretation such as the reference to the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6.
The Bible can leave us guessing in several places. Having said that, most of Scripture is clear! Let’s emphasize that:
The clearest parts of Scripture are the parts that really matter in our day-to-day lives!
For example, whether the Sons of God were fallen angels or not has little bearing on whether we should tell the truth, whether or not we should steal, whether we can murder, or whether or not we should sin in any way.
Think for a moment – outside of a rare Sunday school lesson on something heavy such as epistemology – when do you hear people say that the Bible is confusing? When do you hear people say the Bible is unclear? When do you hear people say that the Bible can be interpreted in different ways by different people so we should not use it as an absolute guide?
You never hear that when it comes to high-vaulted doctrinal concepts such as eschatology or theodicy. No, you only hear the Bible is cloudy when simple, clear-cut morality issues are at stake!
When it comes to the death penalty people will tell you the Bible isn’t exactly clear on the issue. (It is.) (In both testaments.)
When it comes to marriage between a man and a woman people will tell you the Bible isn’t exactly clear on the issue. (It is.) (In both testaments.)
And when it comes to forgiveness people will tell you that the Bible doesn’t make it clear that forgiveness can only be possible after repentance of the offense has been given.
Please Forgive This Interruption
I have not yet proved my case that unconditional forgiveness is a sin. I will do so in this chapter. We’re still considering why it’s even an issue. Also, why is forgiveness lumped in with other topics that today’s Christians and the world say the Bible doesn’t make clear? It turns out, the longer a lie is told, the fewer people question it and the more that people believe the lie. That is why people have this illogical notion that Scripture is cloudy when it comes to morality issues when the opposite is true.
And yet – moral issues are exactly the kinds of issues God makes exactly clear, repeatedly, often, multiple times, using as many as three languages to do so!
So if you reject the teaching of the Bible – which I suggest is the primary problem this book solves relating to forgiveness – then to me you are rejecting one of the most clear-cut teachings Jesus ever taught. One of the clearest teachings of the One Who died for you made it extremely clear when and how you are to forgive. But people don’t like what He had to say, especially a lot of today’s Christians who feel Jesus was often too callous.
It’s worth noting that it is Jesus Himself who teaches us how to forgive in the Bible! God didn’t even leave this one to one of His Bible scribes such as John or Moses.
Once a person once told me that homosexuality was not a sin because Jesus never spoke one word about it. To say something that foolish is an attempt to mock Jesus Christ. To say something that foolish is an attempt to say the Bible’s clear-cut teachings on morality are not clear. Unsurprisingly, it was an author of a Christian book who said this to me.
Let’s analyze how such blasphemy against Scripture can be so common today. To do so only requires that we apply his argument to other topics. Jesus never spoke one word about kidnapping did He? So kidnapping should not be considered a sin and we should even remove it from the nation’s law books. Did Jesus ever speak a word about arson? Perhaps we should not consider arson a sin either.
Paul stated that he was a minister for Jesus Christ. Paul tells us clearly throughout his writings that he received his inspiration directly from Jesus Himself. Paul speaks out against homosexuality without any footnote from God telling us that He didn’t inspire Paul on that particular subject. Even more potent is the fact that Moses tells how wrong it is and Jesus Himself says that every word Moses wrote is true.
By saying a sin is not a sin because we cannot find Jesus describing it as a sin shows a complete disregard for Jesus and the rest of Scripture. It is the modern-day lukewarm Christian’s attempt to water-down the Bible.
Jesus Took the Reins Here
So to review, it was Jesus Himself who taught us how to and when to forgive. For those who want to mock the Bible by saying only the words Jesus spoke have meaning, even they can’t use that lie here. God thought forgiveness was important enough to let His Son, Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, tell us exactly, step-by-step how and when to forgive.
Why then is forgiveness almost always taught wrongly? Don’t you find that to be sad?
Forgiveness is one of the subjects people twist because they don’t like what Jesus said. They dislike that Jesus told us how to forgive clearly. He tells us so clearly in fact, you’ll be shocked to see the ways people manipulate Scripture to force it to conform to their preferred prescription for forgiveness.
So What Does Jesus and Bible Say About Forgiveness?
The Bible says a lot about forgiveness. For our purposes, the most important verses to read about forgiveness are the ones that instruct us how to forgive properly and in a Godly manner. Do you see that is vital? Before learning about when you are to forgive you should know how to forgive. It is my suggestion that most teachings about forgiveness only tell you to forgive. Most teachings do not explain to us how to forgive righteously because if they did much of what they teach elsewhere about forgiveness would be exposed as unscriptural.
That is why there is a dearth about how to forgive in Christendom today.
Keep in mind the previous section about how people say the Bible is cloudy. Keep in mind my assertion that they say this most of the time about unclouded issues.
In sermons about forgiveness, here is the verse you don’t hear much about 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.”
This Book Could End Right Here
To paraphrase the bumper sticker, Jesus said it therefore it is true.
People have to go to great lengths to make Luke 17:3-4 say something other than what Luke clearly wrote.
Analyzing Jesus’ Forgiveness Commands
First, we must note that Jesus was teaching His disciples here. These guys were often knuckleheads – just like me and you. Jesus knew that He had to teach them clearly. If His disciples were seen doing something unbiblical, how could they be an example to others during their Great Commission where they were to go and spread the Gospel to the other nations?
“Head’s Up Guys!”
Right from the start Jesus wants their attention. Be on your guard! It’s like a baseball team manager yelling out to his players, “Listen up guys!” Only forgiveness is not just a baseball game. This heads-up makes it plain that what Jesus is about to say is especially important.
Is it important? Is the topic of forgiveness important? Forgiveness is at the heart of the Gospel. So, yes.
Should we take special notice when Jesus starts one of His many teachings with, “Be on your guard!”? Can we agree that is possibly a prelude to an extremely vital statement or command? One that has extra significance? One that if learned incorrectly could result in harm to the church?
You know the answers to all those questions. And yet, teachers of forgiveness today don’t seem to be on guard. They don’t care that Jesus thought this particular forgiveness teaching had special importance. They do not seem to care that Jesus put strings on forgiveness.
“Be on guard!” is certainly an imperative command. We don’t need the translator’s exclamation mark to know that. The rest of Luke 17:3-4 also forms a set of commands. Taking Jesus’ commands lightly was not something his disciples should do. Taking His commands lightly is not something we should do. “But we’re under grace!” I can hear some saying right now in their minds. I agree. So what say we then, that we should ignore Jesus’ most clear teachings and let grace abound? Heaven forbid! (With apologies to Paul.)
Who the Players Are Here
After Jesus gets their attention, He then delivers the first of a two-part command. He says:
“If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”
Jesus is not talking about unbelievers and strangers here. Jesus is talking about how one believer is to respond to another who wrongs him. Jesus isn’t talking about how to deal with strangers who sin. First of all, you have a higher responsibility to correct a believer’s sin if you know him than you do to an unbeliever’s sin. After all, you expect unbelievers to sin and people you don’t know might very well not be believers. It’s when a fellow professing believer sins that the church is harmed. We’ll later discuss Biblical teachings about forgiving unbelievers.
God Grants You Limited Authority and Limited Ability to Forgive Others
Once again, look at the first part of Luke 17:3:
“If your brother sins…”
Other translations start with, “If your brother sins against you…” or “If your brother trespasses against you…” This all makes sense. Because only if someone sins against you do you have the ability or authority to forgive that person. If somebody steals someone else’s purse, you have no authority to forgive the thief except to the tiny extent that crime indirectly harms everybody corporally including you.
By translating the passage in its proper context of “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him…” you see that Jesus clearly says this command applies only for a direct sin against you. Which translations are correct, the ones that read:
“If a brother sins against you, rebuke him…”
or the ones that say only this:
“If a brother sins, rebuke him …”?
If the first translation is correct, Jesus is making sure you know He’s talking about a direct sin against you. In the second translation, He could be referring to a sin you know about that is committed against someone other than you.
It turns out that both are equivalent and it doesn’t matter if Jesus explicitly said “against you” or not because we immediately learn that is what He meant. Because Jesus follows up in the very next sentence that if that brother continues and sins against you seven more times you’re to do the same thing as you are to do if he sinned against you only once. The first against you is somewhat redundant and certainly implied given the next sentence saying “…sins against you seven times.”
So we know that Jesus means this: If a brother, a believer, sins against you, this is the command you are to follow if you want to respond properly.
Confrontation is Key Whether we Like it or Not
Continuing the verse break-down analysis…
“If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”
When a believer sins against you, the greatest thing that can happen is that believer comes to you and says he or she is sorry before you even know the sin has occurred. Suppose you needed to pay a brother $15 that you owed him but you accidentally gave him $25 in cash. You didn’t see the extra $10 bill. But your brother saw it! He knew you overpaid him but didn’t say anything right then. Soon, that brother comes to you and admits that you gave him an extra $10 and gives it back to you. This is almost certainly a sincere apology as he comes to you first, not out of fear you’ll realize the mistake but just because he felt bad about taking it. And if he offers more, $20 or so, it’s even more sincere and heartfelt one can assume.
This doesn’t happen often enough.
More often than not, you notice the transgression against you. You can choose to ignore it. If the transgression is small and if you know the person well, you might very well choose not to say anything. Depending on the situation the person who sinned against you, if it was a small matter, and if it possibly even wasn’t intentional, certainly a case could be made that to rebuke and ask for repentance would be making a mountain out of a molehill. (But perhaps you have not seen some of the gigantic molehills out where we live!)
As you just go through your day-to-day life, people will say things, do little minor annoying things, and you just can’t be functional if you address each and every one. You have to use discernment. And a spouse or child can often in an hour’s time say things that might hurt you in minor ways, without any harm or intent meant. These are more annoyances against you than sins. Love is just too strong to allow every little thing to be an issue.
Proverbs 19:11 reminds us, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” Don’t be surprised that I include that here, in a book that continually warns you against forgiving without cause. Obviously you use discernment and the first place to discern always is your own reaction to another person whom you know loves you such as a husband or wife or mother or father. If someone loves you and is a brother or sister in the Lord, your feathers can very well get ruffled and yet no offense was offered or intended.
Those kinds of annoyances happen and we all know that most of them aren’t worth responding to. In addition, if you may have been offended without cause then you certainly shouldn’t rebuke the other but you should drop it and move on. This means drop it completely. Such times hurts are so minor we don’t always know if we just maybe understood something wrongly. We might at the time be a little too sensitive due to other things happening at the time in our lives.
But barring those kinds of extremely petty little annoyances that could possibly be labeled sins or maybe were completely unintentional sins against you day-to-day, Jesus makes it clear here that you can never ignore any significant sin against you! To do so is to violate His command to you.
Do you want to knowingly violate Jesus’ command to you?
Other than what we’ve ruled out as petty, possible misunderstandings that don’t matter, if you think you’re the bigger person ignoring someone else’s transgression against you then let me assure you that you are not bigger than Jesus’ command is to us. He tells us to rebuke someone who sins against us. He doesn’t say ignore it if we want to be liked. Jesus doesn’t tell us to refrain from rebuking if we are too nice to do such a thing.
Here is a general rule of thumb today’s believers should understand: being “too nice” the way the world uses the term almost always hurts others.
Merriam-Webster says this about rebuke:
re•buke \ri-ˈbyük\ verb transitive
1 a : to criticize sharply : reprimand
b : to serve as a rebuke to
2 : to turn back or keep down : check
Wow, Merriam and Webster weren’t being too nice here.
If one agrees with them then Jesus is telling us to criticize others sharply. Surely Jesus would never be so mean!
See, when we listen to the world our entire concepts of nice and mean get distorted. You must learn to separate your feelings and your preconceptions about being nice from your goal to be Holy and to be like Jesus. From a real, truthful, life-changing perspective, nobody can ever dream of being as nice as Jesus. But from a worldly perspective, being nice to others will harm them.
This is difficult for some. In general, women have a harder time separating being nice from doing the right thing than men do but all believers have problems with this to some degree. We must train ourselves to be bold and Holy and listen to God because only then can we make a positive impact on the world. Only then are we allowing God to work through us and in us to mend relationships. It’s sometimes called Tough Love. Hell is certainly a good example of Tough Love. Hell isn’t very nice.
How Do You Get Good at Rebuking? Practice, Lots of Practice!
We must train ourselves to rebuke others when they sin against us. A Meyer-Briggs Personality Test is one possible method to see how easily you can rebuke others or how unlikely you are to do so. It’s also a good way to know if you are the kind to ask for forgiveness (or in general wait to be caught in the sin first). Certainly I am describing a purpose for Meyers-Briggs that it wasn’t designed to determine and certainly there is nothing written in stone that says Meyers-Briggs is accurate for everybody who takes the test and many people overlap its categories in strange and unique ways.
Having said that, I easily rate ISTJ on Meyers-Briggs. Those who know about this test probably guessed that already. ISTJ stands for Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging. One might at first think that the first characteristic of Introversion makes it difficult for ISTJs to rebuke, that doesn’t seem to be a big hindrance for most of us ISTJs. Plus, the Introversion doesn’t translate to mean wallflower but rather is a preference that we tend to stick to close-knit circles of friends and family instead of broadening out intentionally to interact with a wide variety of people.
Please Forgive This Interruption
Does the idea of a personality test with the name Meyers-Briggs sound like New Age stuff that doesn’t belong in a book about Christian living? That’s what I would have said!
It turns out that a lot of Pastors and believers use Meyers-Briggs. Now a lot of Pastors and believers enjoy a lot of things than they probably shouldn’t, but just because something is secular doesn’t mean we can’t use it as a tool sometimes. Meyers-Briggs seems to be fairly accurate and isn’t linked to measuring any kind of moral or ethical personality trait but rather is a tool for measuring how people are wired and how people respond to others. So we can derive some benefit by learning where we fall on the Meyers-Briggs scales. And by seeing how many people of different Meyers-Briggs personality types interact with each other, we can better discover weaknesses and strengths that we have and discover what we need to work on more.
So being INTJ I naturally rebuke others easily. The only problem with that is that INTJs in general can be slow to ask for forgiveness. We think we’re right much of the time! And we don’t mind telling you (as the previous pages have demonstrated). Nevertheless, we are wrong sometimes, more than we like to admit. And when we realize we are wrong, we are extremely hard on ourselves. Once we do realize we must ask for forgiveness, we often do so with a heavy, grievous heart.
Holding a grudge for some of us is far easier than accepting an apology. If you find yourself to be this kind of person you need to pray for the release of that flaw. Give it over to God. The moment someone truly wants our forgiveness, we are hurting that person by not accepting it fully.
ISTJs have a strong sense of justice. So when we don’t like a situation, we are difficult to accept our part of the blame. This is a big problem. Our difficulty to show grace and humbleness is not pardoned just because we are ISTJ and prefer to met out justice every chance we get. As I said though, once we do understand where we went wrong, we are often extremely hard on ourselves and cannot wait to correct the situation with whom we’ve wronged.
To be continued…
 A Serrated Edge, Wilson, Douglas
 I’m convinced these were fallen angels trying to pollute all lineages so Jesus could not be born in a pure line, but absolute, clear-cut proof of that is not in Scripture. Plus, God outmaneuvered Satan with Jesus’ virgin birth.
 Defined as the study of knowledge, typically God’s knowledge.