There is much error and false doctrine proprogating forgiveness when other works of God's Holy Spirit are called for, e.g. love, mercy, grace, self-control, etc. (Galatians 5:22-26). Often quoted are Luke 23:34, "Father forgive them..."; Colossians 3:13, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."; Matthew 6:14-15, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." among others as proof that whether a sinner repents or not--Christians are to forgive. But as is true of most doctrinal error the context and form are misplaced.

A quick note about forgiveness--Christians are to have a heart of forgiveness, such as Christ displayed upon the cross (Luke 23:24) and God has toward us sinners (Colossians 3:13). But often Christians are told to GIVE forgiveness for their own health or so that their sins can be forgiven, even if the sinner is unrepentant--this is unbiblical and destructive to the individual believer, the sinner who is unrepentant, and to the body of Christ, HIS Church, as well as to the non-believer.

A heart of forgiveness patiently/eagerly waits to give forgiveness, as displayed in Matthew 18:21-35 knowing that their sin against God is far greater than another human's sin against them, and by God's grace, the heart of forgiveness shows Christ's love, mercy, compassion, patience, grace, etc. thereby inviting the sinner to repent and enjoy God's wonderfulness and Christian community through repentance and believing in Christ's forgiveness of their sins and adding their forgiveness, their covenant to not hold their sins against them. God does NOT forgive where there is no repentance but God does show common grace and mercy as HE invites sinners to HIM through Godly repentance.

In that light we offer Dr. Jay Adams' materials for your consideration...
also see John Calvin's exposition of Luke 23:34

The Basis for Forgiveness
(Some Theological Considerations)
By Dr. Jay E. Adams
Recommended Reading
A Theology of Christian Counseling Pages 192-196
HarperCollins/Zondervan Publishing House
To order call Timeless Texts at 1.800.814.1045

"Having said that forgiveness is free to the receiver, (Charizomai stresses that element.) I immediately balanced that remark with the truth that forgiveness costs the one who grants it. Let's explore this fact and some of its ramifications.

First, it is crucial to recognize that God's forgiveness isn't an overlooking of sin, a by-passing of liability or a winking at guilt. It is not a pardon that is easy to give and costs nothing. Forgiveness was purchased at the cost of Christ's life. Forgiveness cost God His only Son. Hebrews 9:22 (cf. 10:18) declares that there is no forgiveness apart from the shedding of blood. This is bedrock; it may be neither doubted nor questioned by Christian counselors (remember how closely atonement is linked to forgiveness in Leviticus 4, 5 ).

Of special importance is Matthew 26:28, where we are told that at the institution of the Lord's Supper Jesus spoke of "My blood of the covenant that is poured out for many for the remission [aphesis = forgiveness] of sins." The purpose, intention (or goal) of Christ's death was to bring about the forgiveness of sins. Never, in theology, in counseling or anywhere else, may those two factors be separated.

Liberals ask questions like, "Why an atonement? Why the blood? Why a sacrifice for sins? Why doesn't God simply cancel the debt and remove the liability? Why do you say that He hinges forgiveness to atonement?"

The question is important. Why did our forgiveness cost God His Son? Because God is holy and righteous as well as merciful and compassionate. Both sides of God's person must be satisfied. In Romans 9:22, 23 we are told that God wanted to demonstrate both His wrath and His mercy. Both can be seen in all of God's dealings with individuals and nations.

As a God of order and righteousness Who rules His world with equity, Jehovah ordained His laws and set forth the penalties for those who violate them. He may not let man go scott free therefore; He must exact the penalties that He has required. He may not upset His own order, waive His former concerns and change His mind. His justice must be satisfied. God's wrath over the personal and legal aspects of man's sin must be appeased. Man not only broke God's laws; he also offended God as a Person. Christ, by His active and passive obedience had to live the life God's holiness required and die the death this justice exacted. Because of these facts, the loving merciful, substitutionary death of Christ has made it possible for God to be just and the Justifier of those who trust Christ for forgiveness (Romans 3:24-26). Mercy and wrath kissed at the cross.

If I were to punch you in the nose, then ask someone sitting next to you to forgive me, that wouldn't do. It is you-not he-that I have offended, and I must have your forgiveness. He can't forgive me; only the one I have sinned against can do that. Forgiveness is a transaction that always involves the two parties involved in the offense. Jesus Christ wasn't a third party, sitting by; He was God manifest in the flesh. God Himself-one of the interested parties-bore the cost by taking the penalty upon Himself. In this way, all is satisfied that should be. In contrast, the liberal view amounts to little more than a toleration or a condoning of sin.

Close to that liberal approach (in effect, if not in intention) is the view of the Christian psychologizers who equate acceptance with forgiveness. David Augsburger's book, The Freedom of Forgiveness, offers a fair sample of what is being said to the Christian public on a popular level:

Christ's way was the way of giving forgiveness even before asked. . . . To live forgiveness is to give wholehearted acceptance to others. There is no forgiveness without genuine acceptance of the other person as he is.... Forgiveness is acceptance with no exception. (David Augsburger, The Freedom of Forgiveness (Chicago: Moody, 1970), pp.36,37, 39.)

The truth is that Christ's prayer on the cross for forgiveness (to which the first Augsburger quotation refers) was not forgiveness itself, as he claims ("that's forgiveness") but a prayer to God to forgive. Christ, of course had in view all that would happen to bring about that forgiveness; indeed, the death He was dying at the moment was the core of it all. To separate Christ's prayer on the cross from His crucifixion as Augsburger seems to do in this place is a tragic mistake.

We must not-as Christ certainly did not (otherwise, why did He die) -accept the other person "as he is." To do so, to forget all about sin unatoned for and unconfessed (not properly dealt with) is not biblical. We forgive-and on that basis accept (I shall have much more to say about this and about granting forgiveness later on). Biblical forgiveness is conditional; it is not to be equated with Rogerian acceptance ("unconditional positive regard"). There is no basis whatever for that-except bad theology; the theology of Carl Rogers, who believes that at the core of his being man is essentially good.

Forgiveness never ignores sin, or tolerates it (accepting the other person as he is); rather, forgiveness is forgiveness of sin (seen to be, acknowledged and repented of as sin). Forgiveness focuses on the fact that there was an offense; it does not turn away from this fact but deals with it. Psychological doctrines of acceptance are cheap substitutes for forgiveness that deny the need for and efficacy of Christ's atonement- men can accept one another apart from that. Acceptance makes no demands; it is unrealistic, naive. Men are sinners and cannot be handled by acceptance.

Acceptance attempts (at best) a neutralism toward sin. I say attempts because it isn't really possible to be neutral about sin. Sin is against God, and it isn't possible to be neutral about God, Who has been offended by sin. Nonjudgmental attitudes actually condone and encourage sin. To accept a sinner as he is, means to say God was wrong in sending Christ to die for sinners in order to change them. God took sin so seriously that He punished His own Son with death for sin. If God punishes sin, we may not accept sinners as they are.

To say God forgives sin is true. But in saying it that way, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is sinners from whom the liability of guilt is lifted. God punishes persons and He forgives persons. Some try to distinguish between sin and the sinner: "God hates sin; loves the sinner." Such separation isn't possible. God sends sinners to hell; they, not their sin, are punished eternally. Christ, not the sin He bore, suffered and died on the cross. We are concerned in counseling about the liability to unforgiven persons; sinners. It does no good to obscure facts with trite sayings. Sinners need forgiveness.

It is important to use the word sinner in counseling when speaking of sin. It is not that we want to go around condemning people as sinners; that's not the point at all. What we want to do or don't want to do is beside the point. The only question is, What does God want us to do? The answer to that is plain: call sin sin. Only then can we point people to the forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ. Sin can be forgiven (mental illness, sickness cannot). Christianity is a religion based on forgiveness. The counseling that never speaks of sin and forgiveness, therefore, is not Christian-no matter what label it bears. Away, then, with the views of liberals and Christians who are psychologizers of Scripture! Let us return to the biblical basics.

"But didn't Jesus pray for His persecutors?" Yes. "Didn't He ask His Father to 'forgive them'?" Yes. "Did He?" Yes. "When? How?" Some were forgiven on the Day of Pentecost as the result of Peter's sermon; but not apart from conviction of sin (cf. Acts 2:37), and not apart from the message of salvation." They had to repent and believe the gospel. Forgiveness came to them as the result of the atonement; not apart from it. These facts must be borne in mind by Christian counselors at all times when counseling. But the matter of guilt and the conviction of sin raises another matter with which (unfortunately) I must deal in some detail because of wrong views that have been insinuated into biblical circles by modern psychologizers of the Scriptures."

For Further Information Call
Church of the Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
(864) 486-9154
A Gospel Preaching and Bible Teaching Church of the Lord Jesus Christ

For more materials by Dr. Jay E. Adams' From Timeless Texts 1.800.814.1045

Also see...
Eight Steps To Complete Forgiveness
John Calvin's exposition of Luke 23:34