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Forgiving When There is No Repentance

Truth In Love 387

Are we commanded to forgive unconditionally in every situation, especially when there is no repentance?

Oct 31, 2022

Dale Johnson: In this week on the podcast, I am so delighted to introduce you to one of my friends, Dr. George Sanders. George is a plastic surgeon who practices in Los Angeles. He was born and raised in Southeast Texas. George graduated from Rice University down in Houston. He attended Harvard Medical School and then completed his general surgery training at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. His plastic surgery residency was done at UCLA and since that time he has been in private practice in LA. While in Boston, that was an important point of your life, Dr. Sanders, where you met, Anna, your wife doing a dietetic internship, and after their marriage, they moved to LA where they’ve enjoyed 43 years of marital bliss. It’s so much fun honestly to watch you two together. I love the relationship that you guys have. Both have been ACBC certified for a number of years and they counsel together, just a joy as well. In their spare time, George and Anna love to serve in the ministry together, as well as travel, entertain and just hang out. They have two adult children who were both believers, both married, and they have two grandsons, which we get to hear about a lot, and I enjoy that. George also serves on the board of directors at The Master’s University and Seminary, longtime members at Grace Community Church in California. Dr. Sanders, it’s a thrill to finally get you on the podcast and let our listeners hear a little bit from you. So, thank you for being with me.

Now, as we start this, we’re going to talk about the issue of forgiveness, and here’s what I love about this, I want to preface it this way. I mentioned in the bio that you are a surgeon and the beauty of what we talked about in biblical counseling, is that you can be brilliant in some area of surgery, and it doesn’t mean that your ministry is only dealing with medical issues. The Bible commands us as believers to encourage one another with the Scriptures, and the Scriptures by the power of the Spirit enable us and empowers us to do this type of work. I can’t wait for our discussion today to demonstrate the beauty of God’s Word at work in our life and empowerment for ministry and that sort of thing.

So, I want to start out with talked about this issue of case wisdom in forgiveness and as we talked about forgiveness, forgiveness is sometimes hard to navigate. It’s difficult, sometimes it gets complex with conflict and difficulties. Now, I want to start with this question. Does our sense of justice when we’ve been offended or whatever, is our sense of justice need to be satisfied before we forgive someone?

George Sanders: Great question, Dale. Certainly, if you look at God’s forgiveness, there are really two types. There is the judicial forgiveness, which is what we enjoy as believers because of the atoning work of Christ on the cross. That type of forgiveness, judicial forgiveness is accompanied by punishment. But on the other hand, once you are a saved believer, there is parental forgiveness, we continue to sin, and although judicial forgiveness is a one-time event, you need continual cleansing from defilement. This is where parental forgiveness comes in. God is the offended parent and we ask His forgiveness and confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So, that’s the sort of thing that we practice on a daily basis and that’s when the Scripture speaks of praying for forgiveness of our sins, that’s what we’re talking about.

That type of forgiveness by God is not contingent upon punishment. God may chasten us, but He’s not punishing us for our sins. So, certainly, God’s forgiveness when it comes to parental forgiveness does not require punishment as far as the type of forgiveness that we practice as believers. Christ speaks a great deal of this and this forgiveness that He asked us to practice is unconditional. It’s not contingent upon punishment. If you look at the Sermon on the Mount, He spoke of turning the other cheek if someone were to slap you, if you were persecuted for the sake of righteousness, this was a good thing. There did not need to be punishment of the offended party of the other party. It spoke of how when we pray, we are to forgive others just as we’ve been forgiven otherwise you’re not going to enjoy forgiveness. And it’s interesting where the statement is made that we are to forgive from the heart. Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18 if he should forgive someone seven times, Jesus tells him seventy times seven, and he tells him that he needs to forgive from the heart. The Hebrew word for “heart” is the Greek word for mind, it’s the concept that we need to put on this forgiveness. We need to make it a determination, to forgive someone, a lot like agape love where we decide to love someone, it doesn’t depend upon the person being loved. It just depends on our decision. And also Christ when he was reviled, He did not revile in return,1 Peter 2:23.

So in all those cases, Christ is saying, look, you need to forgive, you need to forgive unconditionally, you are to avoid personal retaliation for an offense against us. We are to be willing to suffer wrong for the sake of Christ. We are to forgive others because God has forgiven us, and we need to do this time and time again in obedience to Christ. 

Dale Johnson: You mentioned that passage from Ephesians, even Ephesians 4:32, that we are to forgive others in the same way in which God has forgiven us in Christ. And you talk about Christ’s unconditional forgiveness, and I want us to talk about—this is a sticky wicket for a lot of people how do we deal with forgiveness and reconciliation. I want to get to reconciliation later but I want to talk now about forgiveness and some people argue for conditional versus unconditional. You mentioned that Christ definitely, gives certain aspects that are unconditional parameters for forgiveness. But is that always the rule? And then I want to take that a little bit further and just say, are we to forgive unconditionally in every single case? 

George Sanders: Excellent question. Christ, for the most part spoke of unconditional forgiveness, but there were a couple of examples in Scripture. For instance, Luke 17:1-4, where it speaks of someone stumbling a young believer and that it would be better that a millstone to be placed around their neck and they be thrown into the sea, and then He follows that immediate statement that if someone sins and comes to you and repents, we are to forgive them and where to do that seven times. So, the idea is that in certain cases, there is repentance that’s involved and that specifically would be in the antecedent versus those two verses just before in the case of stumbling someone else. So if you are harming someone else, stumbling someone else, Christ is speaking of the need for repentance.

Also Matthew 18, of course, church discipline, if someone sins, it speaks of how you are to go to that person and if they don’t listen to you, to bring a witness, and if they don’t listen then at some point there to be put out of the church. Again in a case like that repentance is built into that. So in those specific cases, Christ spoke of that, and if we sort of look at all of Scripture and sort of put things together, I think they’re basically four instances in which repentance is required.

First of all, if someone else has been sinned against. You are not in a position to forgive that sin of the person who sinned against them, and Scripture speaks of seeking justice for the oppressed, defending the orphan and the widow, and in a case like that, if another person has been sinned against, we’re not in a position to forgive that sin. Also, when ignoring an offense might hurt the sinner, might hurt the offender, confrontation is required. In Galatians 6:1, it speaks of someone who’s caught in a trespass a spiritually mature individual to restore such one to go to that person, practice restoration counseling, if you will, and again, in a case like that you’re looking for restoration, you’re looking for repentance on that person’s part. So, that would be where the offender is harmed. Also, if there’s potential for the church to be damaged, for instance, the Apostle Paul, speaking of how he had heard that a man was sleeping with his father’s wife, he admonished the Corinthian Church for that and told them that they should put this man out. So, if the church is in a position to be harmed by the sin, repentance is required. And finally, I would say that if there is a broken relationship, repentance is required, again in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:23 says that if you’re presenting your offering at an altar and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go and be reconciled to your brother, then present your offering. So, again if there is a broken relationship, reconciliation and repentance that goes along with that is required. So those four instances would be things that I think we need to keep in mind.

Dale Johnson: And that’s really helpful as we think about the parameters that are giving given in Scripture because as I teach my students in the seminary class, you know, not everything fleshes out as nice and neatly as it does in theory, right? And so, when we get into the messiness of real lives, it can be confusing and complex and these are parameters or grids if you will that help us to think with biblical wisdom, or we could call it case wisdom, as we’re talking about on this particular podcast.

Now, as we talk about unconditional conditional forgiveness, people bat that back and forth in a lot of different ways. And forgiveness is certainly one thing. Now, I want to bring up the issue of reconciliation, sometimes people conflate those two things and they’re not one and the same. So, I want you to help us now if we can think through reconciliation. So, what are some of the steps that a person needs to take in order to achieve biblical reconciliation?

George Sanders: If you’re thinking about the word “forgive” basically in the Greek, it means letting go of an obligation that a person has towards you. On the other hand, reconciliation is about the restoration of a broken relationship. The Greek word speaks of a change, a change in the relationship between the two parties from one of enmity to one of peace. So, if you have, for instance, the life of Joseph where his brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt, and then through a matter of God’s providence, he found himself as prime minister, and then his brothers come to him. They don’t know who he is, but he knows very well who they are they’re looking to buy grain because they’re starving and Joseph puts them through reconciliation. He first forces them to face up to what they had done—imprisoning a brother, and then sending the rest back, and demanding that Benjamin to be brought forth. He forced them to face up to what they had done, and they were speaking between themselves, not knowing that he understood every word, and they were facing up to it.

And then, forsaken, the second F, forsaken, how does he do that? Well, he brings them all together, he sits them at a table in order of age, and of course, they were astonished by that, and then he gives Benjamin five times the portion than he had given anyone else. Now, when he was with them years and years and years before, and his father had shown favoritism toward him, what did they do? Well, they threw him in the pit, then they sold him off. In this case, the brothers said nothing. So, he saw yes, they generally had not only faced their sin, but they had forsaken it. And in that case he then completed this with the third F, which would be forgiveness, always forgiving, as he said to them, particularly when their father Jacob had died and they were fearful that he would do away with them. Now that their father is no longer there to tell him to back off. He said, hey guys, you know, all is forgiven. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good and he’s allowed me to save the family. So again, those 3 f’s in that, that is how Joseph managed reconciliation. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, and that’s a great narrative I think to demonstrate just very practically his faith and belief in God, and then that being empowering for him to reconcile, to forgive. Now, we talked about as I mentioned in the previous question, forgiveness, and reconciliation. And I want you to help us to distinguish between the two. It certainly seems to me that in order to reconcile, forgiveness is absolutely necessary. But unfortunately, there are some times where forgiveness can be offered or even granted to some degree, but reconciliation has not happened, so, help us to understand what is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

George Sanders: I’ll give you an example in my own personal life. I had a nurse who worked for me and I know there’s also another doctor’s office where another nurse was the head of the OR. Essentially hired her away from us, and that nurse who did that had actually worked for me as well. So there she was really doing me dirty, if you will, so, my response to that was to forgive her unconditionally. This was a personal offense, it didn’t fit into one of those four categories. Well, three categories, so I forgave her, but yet, there was still a fractured relationship. And so I went to her, I approached her and I told her how I felt about it and she didn’t agree. She said no, that was just the way business was done. So to this day, we’re not reconciled, but forgiveness has occurred. So I think that our attitude should be one of forgiveness and we are to seek reconciliation, but that’s not always possible. If the two parties can simply not agree on something and if you’re one of those parties in your and you’ve examined things from a Scriptural perspective, and Scripture’s clearly on your side, then I think you just have to let it be. You can treat them as though the sin had not occurred. But on the other hand, the relationship has not been repaired and that’s what reconciliation is. 

Dale Johnson: Well, that really helps us to see this in 3D, right? Where we can see the expressions of forgiveness and reconciliation. And I think that’s helpful as the Scripture talks about seek peace as far as it depends on you, you can’t force a person to reconcile and to regain that trust. So, that’s a helpful distinction, but we offer forgiveness in that way so that we’re not in bondage to bitterness and anger and wrath, and so on that can build up if we harbor unforgiveness toward a person.

Dr. Sanders, this has been outstanding and very, very helpful in thinking through and really bringing practical reality to how we deal with issues of forgiveness that can get really complex through a very case-wise grid. So, brother, thank you so much for this.

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