Should We Forgive Our Brother, Even If He Refuses To Repent?
Luke 17:3 reads “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” This verse clearly indicates we should not forgive our brother until he repents. Compare the verse to many other simple passages of the same form, for example one like I John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Doesn’t I John 1:9 indicate by the use of the word “if” that God does not forgive a Christian unless he confesses his sins? Then why wouldn’t the same sentence form prove the parallel in Luke 17:3?Some Christians contradict the plain sense of Luke 17:3 by saying we have the option of forgiving our brother even if he doesn't repent. But this idea would mean we have to forgive every time at the very moment the sin occurs, even with no forthcoming repentance on the part of the offender - because Matt 6:14-15 teaches we must forgive one another if we expect to be forgiven by God. If we don’t forgive others, then we will not be forgiven by God. And so if we have the option to forgive one who has sinned against us (but is not repenting), then we must do so in every case (and immediately), or we ourselves will be lost ... according to Matt 6:14-15.And it would also then follow that we would never have to withdraw from a fallen away Christian as texts like I Cor 5 and II Thess 3:6,14 require. Withdrawal is basically a strong form of rebuke and if we can forgive a person in sin before they repent, that forgiveness means we have to stop rebuking them (that’s one thing forgiveness implies - Luke 17:3), and we can’t ever bring up that sin against them again (Heb 8:12). Withdrawing from them would be ruled out if we have forgiven them (II Cor 2:6-7).Remember, when we withhold forgiveness from a person until they repent (as God does – Acts 8:22), that doesn’t mean we hold a grudge against them or treat them mean and ugly. God forbid. Instead, it means we lovingly and kindly continue to remind them (as we have opportunity) that they need to repent of their sin before they lose their soul over it at God’s judgment (Rev 21:27). That’s exactly how I would want to be treated if I fell into sin, and that is exactly what God requires us to do in relation to an unrepentant Christian (Gal 6:1, James 5:19-20). Luke 17:3 means exactly what it sounds like it means; there is no call to compromise it.