As I said in the beginning of this thread (July 3), most the questions since the message on Sunday have revolved around the complications and difficulties of forgiveness. I am choosing my words very carefully. Notice I have not said "exceptions." To use that word would open up far too many ideas of an ever expanding network of situations that might mute the force of Jesus' teaching on forgiveness.
We must forgive in radically lavish and extravagant ways because, if we belong to Christ, we are aware that we have been forgiven a far more grievous debt to God than any human being could ever owe to us. We are to look to the cross and the price of our forgiveness in the sacrificed life of our Savior and there find the heart and power to forgive as we have been forgiven.
But there are difficulties and complications to forgiveness.
Let me start with a book recommendation--From Forgiven, to Forgiving by Jay E. Adams.
Here's the principle: Forgive all who repent and ask for forgiveness. Be lavish and extravagant with your forgiveness to all who repent and ask for forgiveness. Pray for all whom you are estranged from that they would desire reconciliation with you and would discern that asking for your forgiveness is part of the process of restoration.
But you should not forgive, in fact, must not forgive those who do not repent and ask for forgiveness. Does Jesus forgive those who do not repent and ask for forgiveness? Answer: No. As a follower of Jesus, I want to follow his example. "But this bitterness inside me is eating me alive, don't I have to find some way to forgive them before it twists my spirit it knots?" Answer: No. "Then what do I do?" Good question.
We must cultivate the attitude of heart that says, "If / when Tom, Harry or Mary comes to me and genuinely asks for forgiveness, I will forgive them. I want to cultivate in my heart a willingingness to forgive as Christ has forgivenen me. Until then, I will follow Christ as closely as I can, fixing my eyes of Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before him, despised the shame and endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-3)."
So it looks something like this:
- When a person repents and ask for forgiveness--forgiveness is granted with lavish and extravagant grace.
- When a person refuses to acknowledge their wrong--forgiveness is withheld and other shadows and hints of grace are proffered.
- Rebuke--with humility (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-2; Eph. 4:29-32).
- Church discipline--following the guidelines of Matthew 18:15-20.
- Good deeds--following the principle of Romans 12:14-21.
- Prayer--for ourselves as we struggle with our attitudes toward those who have wronged us (Matthew 6:12-13; 1 Thess 5:17-18, 22)
- Prayer--for the one who has offended us, that they might be given the grace that leads to repentance and that relationship might be restored to a Christ honoring unity.
Again, I recommend the book by Jay E. Adams, From Forgiven, to Forgiving. As I have read and studied the Scripture and as I have counseled others and sought to be faithful myself, I have found very little in this book and perspective with which to quibble over.
This is not the easy path but it is the biblical path.