Do I have to forgive the unrepentant?

At some level we understand that the Christian is obliged to forgive. “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly father will not forgive your trespasses,” Jesus warns us (Matthew 6:15). So not to forgive means not to be forgiven.

But what about the unrepentant? Do I have to forgive my enemy when he does not admit his guilt, when he does not seek my forgiveness?

Let’s be honest. It is hard to forgive, even if the wrongdoer is full of remorse. The hurt they caused stings, the memory is as vivid as Technicolor.

But do we have to forgive the unrepentant? Recall that we are not to “be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). When has revenge ever accomplished better relationships or resolved conflicts? Never! On the other hand, does forgiveness always result in healed relationships? Not always!

But sometimes, my friends, sometimes it does work.

It worked for us. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, how much more shall we be saved by his life?” (Romans 5:10).

Jesus’ death on the cross was for everyone – he offered forgiveness to all. Of course not everyone accepted his offer of forgiveness.

But mark this, everyone could have!

If you forgive the unrepentant, that does not mean you must become his best friend, it does not mean you should entrust your children to his care. It just means you can put the acid in your stomach and the anger behind you. It will be an act for your own good.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the unforgivable, because God forgave the unforgivable in you” (C.S. Lewis).

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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