Does forgiveness require an apology?
A recent discussion among friends brought up this debate: forgive regardless of apology vs no forgiveness without repentance. Let’s go to the scripture.
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: 3-4
Here Jesus explains to his disciples how to approach forgiveness, even with a repeat offender. We see a similar emphasis in Matthew.
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”Matthew 18: 21-22
The parable of the master who forgives his repenting servant of a debt is outlined after these verses. (I reviewed this in my previous article, A Forgiving Heart, found here.) Both the Luke and Matthew sections refer to forgiveness after an apology, or repentance. However, there is a key word appearing in both: “brother.”
Jesus is addressing how we should approach situations with fellow believers. When the brother is in sin and does not repent, we are to rebuke the action. This alone is also not a simple, quick matter.
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.Matthew 18: 15-17
The goal here is to keep the brother’s sin private. Avoid gossip and address them personally. As believers, we should encourage one another in the sanctification process and hold each other accountable in sin.
Should the wrongdoer be unwilling to listen, Jesus outlines a process. This seems to be not just for the wrongdoer, but the accuser as well. Confirm the facts. If it escalates to the point the accused refuses to repent and remove themselves from the sinful action, they are to be rebuked. They are no longer “brother.”
At this point, we can refer to them as outside the church, as “others.” Jesus addresses forgiveness for them as well.
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.Matthew 6: 14-15
Withholding forgiveness can sometimes make us feel powerful. It can feel as if we are proving we do not condone certain actions by drawing a clear line in the sand between wrong and right. However, if we follow the scripture, Jesus does not want us withholding it at all.
If they are a brother, encourage them gently through the process until they repent. Then forgive. If they refuse to repent, you are not to treat them as your brother. Forgive, for they are lost in sin and need your compassion. And you need the peace.
*I want to be clear here I do NOT believe one can lose their salvation. Once someone is truly redeemed, it is done. No one, no thing can pull them from Christ.
God is the ultimate judge. Praise for He is more merciful than I deserve.