Must Repentance Come Before Forgiveness?
A common notion many Christians hold is that if someone wrongs us, we are only obliged to forgive if they first repent and seek forgiveness. The entire basis for this is that God only forgives when the transgressor seeks repentance and forgiveness. However, we must remember that we are not God. I find this notion an inappropriate view regarding human forgiveness towards others, and here’s why.
First, this concept doesn’t appear within Scripture. Rather, Jesus urged that when a person was praying, they ought to forgive anyone who’s wronged them so that God may forgive the one praying also (Mark 11:25–26). No condition of the guilty party’s penitent heart is attached to this command. Furthermore, Colossians 3:13 seems to urge us to forgive as Christ forgave. I recall Jesus upon the cross asking God to not hold the sin against those who put Him on the cross. They hadn’t sought this forgiveness, but Christ wanted them to have it for the reason that leads me to my second point.
If we only forgive when one asks our forgiveness, we live a life void of grace. Grace is a vital factor in forgiveness. We may rightly say that grace is a gift to us that’s not deserved, and while we access that grace through various means defined by God, He has already taken the step of making it available to us. Were we to adopt measures to obtain His grace without His having offered it, it would mean nothing. Grace saves us through faith, and we must remember that grace came first (Ephesians 2:8). If I am content to hold on to another’s wrong, then I neglect that God will forgive me the same way I forgive others.
Third, we assume that the wrongdoer knows they’ve done wrong. There are many times that people have erred against another without realizing it. I’d dare say that we have unintentionally sinned against God in the same way. If I’m to receive God’s forgiveness for everything I’ve done wrong, I’d have to be aware of it to some degree. However, God in His goodness forgives us of even those sins we may be unaware of having done. This is why we generalize in prayer, “forgive us our sins.” There are some we know we’ve done, and some we presume we may not be able to recall. We rely on God’s goodness to forgive even those we may be unaware we’ve committed, so we must act the same towards others.