Can Forgiveness Be Conditional?
Is it possible for one to forgive, and yet the forgiveness be conditional, without any compromise of moral integrity on the part of the forgiver? Of course it is. If it is the case that God is absolutely good, and if it is further the case that he forgives conditionally, then forgiveness may be imposed conditionally with no forfeiture of ethical principle.
There is no better illustration of this concept than that of the request of Christ while upon the cross. Regarding those who were in the process of murdering him, the Lord petitioned: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Did God, at that point in time, forgive those Jews unconditionally? He did not; this is evidenced by Luke’s inspired record of Acts 2. Therein Peter charged the Hebrews thus:
[Y]ou by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay [the Christ] (v. 23).
Concerning those sins, the apostle subsequently would say, “Repent” (2:38). It is obvious that one need not repent of sins already forgiven.
Further, Peter admonishes:
[B]e immersed every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto [for] the remission [forgiveness] of your sins (2:38).
Clearly, the promise of forgiveness to these folks who had become convinced of their complicity in the Messiah’s death, was conditional. God is willing to freely forgive us (Romans 6:23), but there must be the expression of genuine faith in doing what he requires for the reception of that graciousness.
In addition, it is also perfectly obvious that when the child of God becomes lax and transgresses his Father’s will, the pardon extended to him still is conditional. John wrote:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9; cf. Acts 8:22). Note the word “if.”
But there are two kinds of forgiveness. For lack of a better expression, there is vertical forgiveness, i.e., that which is received from our loving Father, as discussed above. There is also, however, a forgiveness which one might designate as horizontal, i.e., it is the forgiveness that we are required to extend to one another. In the model prayer, Christ taught his disciples to pray these thoughts:
Our Father . . . .forgive us our debts [vertical], as we also have forgiven our debtors [horizontal] (Matthew 6:9ff).
Or note Paul’s encouragement to the Colossian saints that they ought to be forbearing to “one another, forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3:13).
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