Have you ever had one of those light-bulb moments when something that has plagued you suddenly becomes crystal clear? Well I had one of those recently during my devotion time with my son. As the product of divorce I have called upon the Lord to help me forgive some pretty painful experiences. I am sure that some of you have done the same as well. To be honest forgiving someone who has harmed me with their sin has never been a big deal to me. I learned early in life that forgiving someone was so much easier than carrying around the grudge that fuels revenge. I often forgave and then forgot and I always thought that forgiving and forgetting went hand in hand. But when it came to the divorce and my forgiving the ones needing such forgiveness I have felt restless in my spirit and never really understood why until that light-bulb moment happened. Here is the passage we were studying.
He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. “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.” Luke 17:1-4, (New American Standard Bible or NASB).
For the first time I made the connection between repenting and forgiving. In order for forgiveness to get to the point of forgetting there is a process that has to take place and that process goes like this. If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. For the first time I noticed that the forgiveness of a fellow Christian is contingent upon that person repenting of their sin. If they repent then you forgive. Notice also that you will know if they have repented because they will come to you and ask for your forgiveness. To be clear on this I looked at other versions of the Bible to see if these verses were translated the same.
So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Luke 17:3, (New International Version).
So watch yourselves! “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Luke 17:3, (New Living Translation).
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, Luke 17:3, (English Standard Version).
“Guard your souls. If your brother should sin, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. Luke 17:3, (Aramaic Bible in Plain English).
We are all probably familiar with the passages on how to confront our fellow Christians if we see them sinning or are victims of their sins but let’s refresh our memory and look at some of those passages.
“So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Matthew 18: 14-18, (NASB).
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. Galatians 6:1-5, (NASB).
Confrontation must take place when we know that sins are being committed. So often this is the part of a Christian’s life that we shy away from. No one wants to walk into another person’s messy life circumstances and yet we are called to do so in this case. Confrontation must be done with mercy and grace as well as love, but it must also be truthful and personal. Far too often the person who has drifted away from God doesn’t want to repent, so does that mean we don’t forgive them? That is a hard fact to struggle with. For me I decided to forgive so that I could live my life free from anger and I didn’t want to carry a grudge. But I must confess that there is not the closure that I have experienced in other cases where I have forgiven. I have not been able to forget and while there are some things that I probably should not forget my desire for complete closure is so strong that I really want to forget. But this passage has shown me something I hadn’t realized before. Until there is repentance my forgiveness of a person simply can’t be completed. The process of forgiving is very clear, confront, and if there is repentance then forgive but if there is not repentance then there can be no forgiveness. Some of you may disagree with me but I have been reminded that it is the same with our relationship with God. When we sin against God He cannot forgive our sins until we repent of them and ask for His forgiveness.
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17, (NASB).
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:37-42, (NASB).
“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Acts 3:17-21, (NASB).
Do you see the correlation between forgiveness and repentance? When I became a Christian I repented of my sins and I ask God even today to forgive my sins. The most famous prayer in all the Bible helps me to ask and helps me to forgive others (Matthew 6: 9-13). None of us are perfect, not yet, not while we still breathe and so we also need to remember that we sin and we repent and we are forgiven by our God. I still forgive for the harm that divorce has created but I also realize that the process for me to forget after forgiving has yet to happen. I hope this insight helps you as much as it has me.