Why is withholding forgiveness wrong? Since God does not forgive a person until they confess/repent, can we withhold forgiveness until a person confesses/repents?
Because God's forgiveness depends on the repentance of the sinner (Acts 3:19), it is easy to assume that we humans are allowed to withhold forgiveness from one another if, similarly, repentance is not present. If the pain caused is intentional, callous, or repeated, and there is no sign that the offending party is sorry, are we allowed to say, "I don't forgive you"?
God does withhold forgiveness when people do not repent (2 Kings 24:4; Lamentations 3:42). In fact, His wrath against those who will not repent builds up and is stored up for Judgment Day—a terrifying thought (Romans 2:5). God is perfect and holy, and He has every right to judge His creatures. We are not perfect and holy, and we do not have the right to judge one another (Matthew 7:2). Therefore, we are told to forgive, no matter what the circumstances. Christians are to forgive those who sin and then repent, even when the offense is committed multiple times (Matthew 6:14–15; 18:21–22; 18:23–35; Mark 11:25; Luke 17:3–4; Ephesians 4:31–32; Colossians 3:13). We are also supposed to forgive when no repentance is present.
Jesus illustrated this truth with a parable: there was a certain man whose servant owed him a large debt. He forgave the debt and the servant went away happy. But then, that servant found another servant who owed him a small debt. The first servant grabbed the second servant and began to choke him and demand that he pay his small debt. When the master heard about what the first servant had done, he was very angry and threw the unforgiving servant in jail until he could pay the large debt he had originally owed his master. Then Jesus said "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:35).
By this parable, it is clear that the circumstances of forgiveness are different from person to person than they are from God to a person. We are not the Judge, or the Master—those roles are specifically God's. This is not very different from the way the human judicial systems work. A man cannot imprison his neighbor for an offense—but the court can. It works the same way with God. We do not have the spiritual power to judge another person's soul, or their motives, but God does. Therefore, He has all the information and wisdom necessary to judge correctly, while we don't.
It is God's nature to forgive. He wants to forgive. Some of Jesus' last words from the cross were to forgive those who were crucifying Him because they didn't understand what they were doing (Luke 23:34). God is not mean-spirited or looking for an excuse to condemn His creatures. But when people refuse to repent, and to take the free gift of God, which is eternal life in Jesus Christ, He has no other option but to allow them the wages of their sin—death (Romans 6:23).
But when we refuse to forgive, it is sin (Matthew 5:22–24). It comes from bitterness, resentment, and anger that is the natural result of being hurt. However, that is not an excuse not to forgive. We are supposed to forgive our enemies, and even pray for them (Matthew 5:44). The ability to forgive an enemy is an ability that comes from God, "for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). From this, we see that God's heart is to forgive even those that are His enemies, and as God's children our hearts should reflect His. When God withholds forgiveness, it is because of His righteous and all-knowing judgement of the person's heart and their situation. Omniscience is something we do not inherit from Him, and as such, we are not justified in withholding forgiveness from one another.
Copyright 2011-2022 Got Questions Ministries - All Rights Reserved.