Author: Ron Graham
A Disciple’s Forgiveness
—Thoughts on Luke 17:3
Jesus said, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him" (Luke 17:3). The purpose of rebuke is to bring about repentance and the purpose of repentance is to gain forgiveness.
1 There is Always Room for Forgiveness.
There is always room for forgiveness if the sinner and those sinned against will make room for it.
There was an extreme case of sexual immorality in the congregation of disciples at Corinth. The sinner was not only rebuked but also removed from the congregation. This caused him to repent and he was forgiven and received back into the fellowship (2Corinthians 2:7-8).
2 It is not right to overlook sin.
Jesus said, "...and if he repents forgive him" (Luke 17:3). This implies that if he doesn't repent, don't forgive him.
Some people have the idea that it is more righteous to overlook sin than to condemn it. But God doesn't overlook or forgive unrepented sin and you can't be more righteous than God. "God now commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30).
Think of it this way: if you overlook and "forgive" people’s sin, but God still holds it against them, how have you helped them? What shall it profit if they gain your forgiveness but lose their souls?
It may feel good to "be forgiving" when people are sinning but not repenting. It may not feel good to rebuke them. However a true disciple of Christ does what is needed to save their souls.
3 Ultimately forgiveness is in God’s hands.
It is all very well to "be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another" (Ephesians 4:32). Of course we should be like that!
But this forgiving must be done "just as God in Christ also forgave you" (same verse). God grants forgiveness to those who repent. "Repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19).
That implies that if there is no repentance, and no change, sin is not blotted out. How can we forgive people whom God refuses to forgive? Though we forgive them, they are still unforgiven! What's the use of that?
So although we are commanded to forgive, we must do so on God’s terms. That's why Peter said to Simon the Magician, "Repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you" (Acts 8:22-24).
Notice that Peter did not forgive Simon but rather rebuked him, and told him to seek forgiveness from God by first repenting and then asking God for forgiveness. Of course if Simon did that, then Peter would be able and obliged to forgive him.
God will forgive "a sin that does not lead to death" (1John 5:16-17). This is sin that one repents of and confesses to God (1John 1:9). A prayer for forgiveness in that case is right and proper, and God will hear and forgive.
So what God is willing to forgive, we should be ready also to forgive, that we might forgive hand in hand with God. We should not forgive what God does not forgive. However when a sin is persistently unrepented, and we have done all we can to turn a sinner from error, then we may need to let go, and leave the sinner in God s hands.