There are 2 types of people in this world: believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and UNbelievers. Both need repentance and forgiveness.
Believers need Fatherly forgiveness from God on a continual basis for sins. Believers must repent and believe in Christ asking God to forgive them.
Unbelievers need judicial forgiveness from God on a first-time, one-time basis for sins. Unbelievers must repent and believe in Christ asking God to forgive them.
In summation, there are 2 types of forgiveness: (1) Fatherly forgiveness by God toward His children who are believers who will continue to sin in this life but do not lose their salvation or relationship in Christ. This is a part of the process of progressive sanctificaion. (2) Judicial forgiveness which is called justification and is a one-time event contingent upon repentance and faith in Christ.
For both types, forgiveness and repentance always go together. They are inseparable when RECONCILING a relationship between 2 people OR between a person and God the Father. Repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of actions. Forgiveness is a PROMISE to not bring up the offense again to the offender, to oneself, or to a third party when the offender repents. God does not bring up our offenses with Him as He sees us as righteous and not as “scumbag sinners.” His forgiveness of us is based upon His justice in that we must repent and trust in Christ’s atoning blood on the cross to receive the judicial gift of forgiveness. Again, this is called justification.
Many want to separate the judicial act of granting the gift of forgiveness from repentance, but they go together. In the other type of forgiveness & repentance called sanctification, the two are inseparable, too, in order to help a Christian grow in Christ.
For example, if a professing, Christian husband were continuing to sin by committing adultery with a girlfriend, the Christian wife of that husband is commanded to call the husband to REPENT for his sins and for his own good! If the husband fails to REPENT by failing to listen to her, then she is to follow the steps of Matthew 18:15-20 and take 1 or 2 witnesses, etc. Though she may be ready and willing to FORGIVE her adulterous husband, she can only cultivate a forgiving ATTITUDE in her heart toward him during that process.
In reality, she cannot grant him the gift of forgiveness judicially speaking until he repents first- though she may want to! As a Christian, she should want to forgive (in a sense) when she understands how much Christ has forgiven her of her sins. Though she may have biblical grounds for divorce, IF he repents I always encourage a wife in this position to reconcile with her husband – with increased accountability, of course!
If she does grant forgiveness (a promise to not bring it up again) and he has NOT repented, then the two of them will live in a fantasy world where he will very likely continue to commit adultery. I’ve seen it occur MANY times. She pretends he still loves her and he continues to pretend he loves his wife – all the while living in sin. It is very sad, especially when children are involved.
It is false love on her part as this adulterous husband needs to REPENT to his wife and to God. It is loving to call him to repentance for his own good. His relationship with Christ is hindered and his relationships with others are hindered. It is a mess until he repents. Real love is holding him accountable, calling him to repent, and not “pretending” that all is well when it is not.
Again, IF he repents, I always encourage counselees to give him a second chance just as Christ forgives us and gave us a second chance. God is redemptive and they can be closer as a result.
She has done all she can do IF she goes to him alone (Matt. 18:15) and follows that whole process in Matthew 18:15-20. The final outcome after telling the church leaders is to treat him as a “Gentile or tax collector” meaning they are to be treated as a lost person simply because they are FAILING to repent. This professing Christian husband is not acting like a believer in Christ so we are to treat him as an unbeliever. She does not pretend that he is a Christian who loves her. That is not true love. He NEEDS to repent. The church’s role in calling him to repent is LOVING. She must wait for him to repent with a forgiving ATTITUDE in her heart toward him. Our goal is for God to work through these circumstances to bring this professing believer to a right relationship with God.
How do we treat unbelievers? As Christians, we must treat unbelievers with compassion. They are lost just as we were lost until the Holy Spirit opened our blind eyes. We are to lovingly share the Gospel of repentance for sins and trusting in the forgiveness of Christ alone for eternal life. We are to continue to share these two, inseparable truths of repentance and forgiveness in the precious Gospel message so that this lost person may come to know Christ.
Our attitude toward the lost must be loving and modeled after Jesus on the cross in Luke 23:34: “Father, (YOU) forgive them for they know NOT what they are doing.” In other words, our prayer must be similar: “Father God, please forgive this lost person just as you forgave me. Call them to repentance just as you called me to repentance in Christ.” Yes, we need to have REAL compassion for this lost soul who needs Christ.
Anything less than calling for someone’s repentance is unloving as repentance in Christ is EXACTLY what a lost person must come to embrace. Anything less than forgiving a repentant person is “spiritual terrorism” and cruelty.
-Mark (I love the balanced Gospel of grace given to us by a Just and Righteous God)