The Essential Elements of Righteous Forgiveness

By Doug Roush

The disgraceful acts of our President has brought the subject of forgiveness to the attention of our society. It is good that we are talking about forgiveness. It is an important subject.

The Bible instructs us as to the importance of forgiveness. It reveals the character necessary to forgive as well as essential elements that are necessary to be met before forgiveness can be rightfully extended. Many are familiar with the warning from Jesus that unless we forgive others, God will not forgive us. However, our willingness or unwillingness to forgive is not the standard of forgiveness; it is simply an indication of our character.

The standard of forgiveness is stated in John 7:24: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” God’s word is the standard of righteousness (Prov. 2:6-9; 8:1-9; Rom. 1:16-17). The standard of righteous judgement is implied in Colossians 3:13. Here we read: “Forbear one another, and forgive one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” The standard of forgiveness is set by Christ and is revealed in God’s word. He clearly stated that certain conditions must be met before forgiveness would be granted. All of these conditions can be summed up in one word — repentance. Jesus said, “Except you repent, you will perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).

What is repentance? The literal definition is “to change one’s mind.” However, the Bible says that the changing of one’s mind is to be demonstrated by what one does as he turns from his sin to do the right thing. The Bible speaks of “bringing forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8). Jesus illustrated this in Matthew 21:28-29 where he told of a son who had refused his father’s command to work in the vineyard. The son “answered and said, ‘I will not:’ but afterward he repented, and went.” Jesus said, “. . . If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.”

God forgives when there is demonstrated repentance. Our forgiveness of those who have wronged us is endorsed by God when there is demonstrated repentance on the part of the offender.

Our president’s instructions to his lawyers to defend him against impeachment by arguing that he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky and that he did not commit perjury or obstruct justice indicates that although he has confessed his sin, he has not repented of it. The only honorable action of repentance for this president is that he resign his office. Only then can there be genuine forgiveness.

He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn. Whoso loveth wisdom rejoiceth his father: but he that keepeth company with harlots spendeth his substance (Prov. 29:1-3).

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour (1 Tim. 2:1-3).