Forgiveness

Forgiving Like Kings and Servants

What does forgiveness really mean, biblically? Should we forgive people who haven’t repented? They’re questions all Christians have probably wondered about at some point.

The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35 is really helpful for learning about the foundation and mechanics of forgiveness. As you read it, watch for the actions of the people in the story:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35

Let’s zero in on the king’s actions in verse 27: And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. What did the king do?

First, he had compassion for the servant who had gotten himself into something he couldn’t get out of. And that’s always the case when someone sins against us – she’s done something she can’t undo. She might be able to apologize, or even make some sort of restitution, but she can’t go back in time and not sin against you so that things are like they used to be. It’s impossible. So we have compassion on those who are stuck in an impossible situation. We show them mercy.

Next, the king released the servant. He “unstuck” the servant from this impossible situation. The king made a proactive decision that he was not going to hold the servant captive to this situation of his wrongdoing any more. The king decided he was going to set the servant free from it and let him go.

Finally, the king forgave the servant’s debt. He surrendered his right to exact payment from the servant, and absorbed the loss himself. He zeroed out the account. He marked the bill “paid in full”. He said, “We’re good. We’re square on this.”.

Now just to drive the point home, look at how the servant demonstrates the exact opposite – unforgiveness – with his fellow servant. Look at verse 28- “…he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’.”

He didn’t release the debtor, he seized him. He didn’t give up his right to exact payment from his fellow servant, he tried to extract payment – by choking him and demanding the debt be paid.

Verse 29- So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’

And look at this point for point antithesis of compassion, release, and forgiveness of debt in verse 30: “He refused, and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.”

The servant refused to show show the debtor compassion. The servant had the debtor put in prison, the definition of captivity, and the opposite of release. He keeps the debtor stuck in his impossible situation. Because, if you’re in prison, how are you going to work to earn money to pay your debt? The servant’s attitude was, “I’m not going to absorb the loss. I’m not going to pay the cost – you’re going to pay it. Even though you’re stuck in this impossible situation where there’s no way to pay it. And even if there were a way, you’d be incapable of paying that much.”

Isn’t that whole story an amazing illustration of what it means to forgive? We show mercy and compassion. We give up our right to make the person who sinned against us pay, and we set her free from captivity to the impossible situation of us being angry or hurt at her over something she can’t change.

And you know what’s even more phenomenal about this? Who’s telling this story? Jesus, right? He’s the king in this story. The King of kings. And not too long after this, He’s going to perfectly practice what He preached. He’s going to have compassion on us because we are stuck in the impossible situation of having racked up an enormous sin debt against Him that we have no way of ever paying off, and no ability to pay off that much even if there were a way.

And that compassion is going to lead him to show mercy to us and provide us a way to get unstuck. He’s going to go to the cross to release us and forgive our debt. He sets us free from being in captivity to our impossible state of indebtedness to Him. And He doesn’t just absorb the cost of our sin, He actually pays it with the currency of His own blood. He can mark the bill “paid in full” because He paid it Himself.

And that’s why we forgive others. Because Christ forgave us infinitely more.

Now, in this story, both the first servant and the second servant repented to the person he was indebted to. But what about someone who sins against you and doesn’t repent? Can you still forgive her? Should you still forgive her?

Well, let’s go back to the text. Can you adopt a posture of mercy and compassion toward the person who sinned against you, even if she doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong? Even if she’s not aware of your mercy and compassion? Yes, because that mercy and compassion originate and live in your heart. It’s primarily an internal posture of the heart, whether you can pour it out externally or not.

Can you make the decision to set her free from your anger or hurt feelings? Yep. Again, that’s an internal decision and attitude of the heart before it ever becomes an external action of responding to someone who repents. Can you surrender your right to make her pay for what she’s done? Yes, you can make that decision of the heart that her bill is paid in full and she no longer owes you.

We would do well to remember…

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

While you were still actively sinning against Him, before you knew what sin was, before you understood you were a sinner, while you were a hater of God, Christ died for you. He showed mercy and compassion to you. He provided a way out of your impossible situation. He paid your debt in full. Romans 2:4 says that kindness is what led us to repentance.

Now, you don’t know whether your kindness in forgiving someone will ever lead that person to repent, but that part isn’t your business. That’s above your paygrade. Your paygrade is to obey God and forgive. That’s where your job stops. It’s God’s job to handle the results.

But what about forgiving a person who’s dangerous or harmful? Forgiving someone who’s unrepentant doesn’t require you to put yourself into situations with that person that allow him or her to keep on unrepentantly sinning against you. For example: If you’re in an abusive marriage, you can forgive your unrepentant husband while living somewhere safe. Scripture does not require you to move back in with him and give him the opportunity to keep sinning against you.

Forgiveness doesn’t require the other person to repent but reconciliation does. Forgiveness is a one man job. Reconciliation is a two way street. You can’t be reconciled to someone who refuses to be reconciled to you.

Forgiveness can be difficult, but no one has sinned against us as much as we’ve sinned against Christ. Because we have been forgiven much by Christ, we should be eager to lavish that forgiveness on those who sin against us.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Colossians 3:12-13
Mailbag

The Mailbag: My “Christian” Family Member Bears Rotten Fruit

Originally published October 24, 2016

mailbag

I have a family member, *Fran, who claims to be a Christian, but follows several major false teachers, drinks, habitually lies, is very proud, boastful, and manipulative. She has been shown that these teachers are false but chooses to follow them anyway.

Should I treat her as though she were a sister in Christ by going to her and rebuking her and going through the “disciplinary” steps in hopes of reconciliation? Or should I go about it as if she weren’t a sister in Christ?  I have been praying for her and for wisdom for myself to handle this in a God honoring way.
(*Name changed)

It’s always difficult to watch a loved one choose sin over Christ and false doctrine over sound doctrine. Praying for Fran and for God’s wisdom and guidance are the first and best step.

You’ve asked about “going through the ‘disciplinary’ steps in hopes of reconciliation.” I believe what you’re referring to here is the process described in Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

This is the basic outline Christ has given us for disciplining sin in the local church. One thing to notice about that last step is that if the person sinning does not listen to the church, the church is to excommunicate (remove, or disfellowship) him from membership and regard him as someone who is lost and in need of the gospel. This brings us to the question of whether Fran is a member of your church or another church. A church obviously can’t excommunicate someone who isn’t a member of that church. This helps us to see that each local body is responsible for disciplining its own members.

If Fran is a member of your church, then, yes, the steps in the Matthew 18 passage should be applied. The wisest course of action, especially if you’ve never done something like this before, is to seek the counsel of your pastor or an elder as to the best way to approach Fran and handle the meeting. Set aside some one on one time to talk to Fran, and be sure you listen to her as well. Part of that one on one meeting is for you– to make sure you are correctly assessing the situation, not, for example, reacting to a rumor you heard, a misunderstanding of an incident, etc. Lovingly and humbly point her to the Scriptures she has transgressed. Pray with her if she is willing.

After that initial meeting, give her some time to consider what you’ve said and to respond to the Holy Spirit’s work in her heart. Check back in with her at a later date and find out if she has repented. If not, prayerfully gather two or three others Fran likes and respects and repeat the process. If she still doesn’t repent, take those two or three people, meet with your pastor or the appropriate elder, and seek his guidance on the next step to take.

You didn’t specify in your e-mail, but it sounded as though Fran is not a member of your church. In this case, you really don’t have any ecclesiological redress (i.e. excommunication) to back you up. What you have is a family member who appears to be a false convert because she is bearing the fruit of someone who is unsaved rather than the fruit of someone who is saved.

I would again encourage you to meet with your pastor, an elder, or a godly, older, spiritually mature woman at your church for counsel as to the best way to proceed. It might be possible to carry out the first two steps of the process simply as an act of love and concern, considering what steps you would take in your personal relationship with Fran if she refuses to repent. First Corinthians 5:9-13 is a good passage to study as you consider this situation:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

This passage is also written to the church body regarding church discipline, but we can glean from it, as well as from the Matthew 18 passage, that there is to be some noticeable degree of separation between Christians and individuals who call themselves Christians yet unrepentantly persist in sin.

As you mentioned, the whole point of lovingly confronting someone you care for about her sin is to – for the good of her own soul – point her back to Christ so that she may first be reconciled with Him through repentance and forgiveness, and then be reconciled with her church family and others. Two good Scriptures to remember and take to heart when we have no other choice but to approach a sinning sister are:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2

It can be difficult, painful, and embarrassing to hear someone tell you you’re in sin. Put yourself in that sister’s shoes. Treat her as kindly and mercifully as you would want someone to treat you. We never confront another in her sin with the motive of shaming, punishing, seeking revenge, or proving her wrong and ourselves right. That is not the gospel. It is not how Christ treats us when we sin. If she repents when you approach her, forgive and rejoice with her in the good work Christ has done in her heart.

Additional Resources:

What is Excommunication in the Bible? at Got Questions

What does the Bible say about church discipline? at Got Questions

A Church Discipline Primer at 9 Marks

In Order that You May Know at Grace to You


If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Regrets…I Still Have a Few

 

I know regret should lead us to repentance. My question is: After repentance and salvation what do we do with regret? Is it sinful to continually experience regret? Is it just a consequence we must live with? I feel like I’m being swallowed up by it the more I read the Bible, which is not the end of the world, but I just want to handle it correctly.

Great question. I think correct context and semantics can help us out a lot here.

The verse you’re referring to is 2 Corinthians 7:10 (which I have linked in context in your question above):

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

There are several concepts at play here between your question and the verse, and we need to be sure we’re not conflating them: regret, godly sorrow or grief, shame, and guilt.

When we American English speakers say, Frank Sinatra-style, “Regrets….I’ve had a few….,” what we mean is that there are things we’ve done in the past that we wish we hadn’t done, and that if we had it to do over again, we would do things differently. Every Christian has had incidents we feel this way about, whether they took place before or after we got saved. If your love for Christ and your growing understanding of the blackness of sin have led you to regret rebelling against Him, that’s not a bad thing. What would be bad is if you had no regrets. When we look back on past sins, we should always do so with an attitude of regret for having committed them.

But doesn’t this verse say repentance leads to salvation “without regret”? Yes. But that phrase doesn’t mean we’ll never look back at our past sins and wish we had obeyed God instead. Read the verse in context. Paul had written his “severe letter” rebuking the Corinthian church for their sin. It cut them to the heart in godly sorrow over their transgressions and they joyfully repented, never once looking back and wishing for their old way of life. Even with the hardships and persecution many first century Christians faced, they never, for a single moment, regretted turning from their life of sin and following Jesus. (I think we could all say a hearty “Amen!” to that!) That’s what “salvation without regret” means- we don’t regret casting our lot with Christ.

Another aspect of this verse and question we need to address is this: The verse doesn’t say our regrets produce repentance that leads to salvation. It says “godly grief”, or “sorrow,” or “sorrow that is according to the will of God,” is what produces repentance that leads to salvation. There’s a big difference.

Regrets are more in line with the “worldly grief” mentioned at the end of the verse, which produces death. Even lost people like Ol’ Blue Eyes can look back over their lives and recall their embarrassing or jerky behavior and the choices they made that hurt others or themselves, and they can wish they hadn’t done those things. Why? Because of the natural consequences of sin. He got caught. He lost his job or his wife or a friend.

He had to pay the piper, and he didn’t like the looks of the bill.

Not a thought to the Lord whose laws he broke. Not a twinge of guilt and shame for committing sins that crucified the Savior who loves him. No fear and trembling at the feet of a thrice holy God of wrath who has the power to cast him into Hell for all eternity.

That is godly grief. It’s a grief that goes vertical first…

I have offended a high and holy God.

Woe unto me, for I am a man of unclean lips!

Against Thee, and Thee only, have I sinned.

Father, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

…and then, springing from that godly grief, seeks horizontal forgiveness from and reconciliation with others.

When godly grief over sin produces repentance, repentance leads to salvation. And when Christ saves you, a transaction takes place in God’s legal system in which Christ absorbs the shame, guilt, and penalty for your sin, and God, the righteous Judge, rules you not guilty.

But what can you do when you’ve been genuinely saved and you look back at your past sin not only with regret, but also feeling the weight of guilt and shame? I think maybe that’s the heart of what you’re asking.

You have to hold on to what you know to be true according to God’s Word over and above what you feel. God’s Word is objectively trustworthy. Our feelings are not. Our feelings can be fickle and fleshly. Subjective and deceptive. We have to tame those feelings like wild horses with the bit, bridle, and spurs of Scripture, and rein them in or turn them in the direction God wants them to go.

So what do we know to be true about feeling guilt and shame for our past sin?

• Whatever we may feel, the fact is that, in Christ, we are not guilty, and our shame has been removed:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:4,8

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. Isaiah 54:4-5

• It isn’t God who is leading us to feel a way that doesn’t line up with His Word. Satan is the only one who makes false accusations against Christians:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. Revelation 12:10

• It is not God’s will for us to focus on the past, but to move forward like the Christians we are, keeping our eyes on Jesus:

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:13b-16

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

When you look back on your former life and are overwhelmed by guilt and shame, remember the words above are from the very lips of God Himself. Remember that you were guilty and covered with shame, and let that knowledge lead you to thank, praise, and worship the One who took your sin and wretchedness upon His own shoulders. Who absorbed your punishment, your blame – and set you free. Free to honor and obey Him. Free to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ 9 Things that Are Still Sins Whether We Agree or Not

Originally published June 19, 20159 still sins

 

I do it all the time, Mother, and I’ve decided something-
it’s not a sin.

I heard this line several years ago on a popular sitcom, spoken by an adult daughter to her Christian mother about a behavior the Bible unambiguously calls a sin. I mean, it’s right smack dab in the middle of the Big 10; “thou shalt not” and everything.

It’s one thing to say, “I know it’s a sin, but I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway,” but how depraved is the world when they think they – in God’s place – are the ones who get to define what sin is? And what’s even worse is that the church has begun to adopt this audacious depravity as well, whether approving of sin by fiat or by simply ignoring God’s word and letting sin slide without rebuke.

When it comes to what’s a sin and what’s not, God made up His mind a long time ago. And He’s not changing it, regardless of what you or I or Joe Politician or Jane Celebrity might think. Maybe we all need a remedial course in hamartiology, so let’s start with the basics. These things are all still sins whether the world and the church agree with God or not:

1. Homosexuality

Let’s just get it out of the way right up front. I don’t care how many celebrity “pastors” and “Christian” authors twist God’s word to say otherwise, or how many people declare themselves to be (unrepentant, practicing) “gay Christians,” or how many homosexuals declare that God made them that way, God’s word is clear: homosexual lust and behavior are sins.

2. Abortion

Abortion is the taking of an innocent human life. We don’t murder people because they’re small or sick or inconvenient or will hinder our sucess. God didn’t say, “You shall not murder, except when…” He said, “You shall not murder.” Period.

3. Extra-Marital (Heterosexual) Sex

Adultery, fornication, whatever form it might take, if you’re not legally married to the person you’re engaging in sexual activity – up to and including actual intercourse – with, you’re sinning.

4. Cohabitation

See #3. And don’t try to whitewash it by saying you’re living together but not sleeping together. A) The Bible says we’re to flee temptation, not move in with it, and B) we’re supposed to avoid every form of evil, even the appearance of it. If you call yourself a Christian and you’re shacking up, you’re living in sin (that’s why they call it “living in sin”). Repent and move out or marry up.

5. Divorce

Yep, still a sin, except in two cases: unfaithfulness or an unsaved spouse leaving a saved spouse. In those two cases the spouse who was wronged is not sinning and is free to marry again.

6. Swearing

The air is saturated with it. Foul language coming from our TVs, music, movies, social media, and the people we’re around all day. But expletives have no place in the vocabulary of a Christian. Is your potty mouth on Saturday the same one you praise God with on Sunday?

7. Taking God’s Name in Vain

It’s gotten to the point where we think so little of casually punctuating our sentences with, “Oh my G-d,”  or using the name of Jesus as an exclamation that pastors are even doing so from the pulpit these days. God’s name is high and holy and should be spoken only reverently and worshipfully. How can we look people in the eye and call them to repentance and faith in a Person whose name we use as a cuss word?

8. Gluttony

We have almost completely amputated gluttony from the spiritual realm by cordoning it off as merely a physical or medical issue. We’ve renamed it “overeating,” but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a sin. God created good food for us to enjoy, but just as with all the other good gifts He gives us, He expects us to exercise Spirit-enabled self control when we receive it.

9. Female Usurpation

God makes it abundantly clear in His word that women are not to instruct men in the Scriptures or hold authority over them in the church. Women sin when they pastor churches, preach sermons in church, teach men in Sunday School classes, and hold other positions of authority over men in the church. Men, however, bear the primarily responsibility for this when they sin by failing to rebuke usurping women, or when women feel they have no other choice but to take on male responsibilities in the church because men are shirking their own duties before God.

 

We don’t get to decide what sin is. That’s God’s job. And all of us – whether we’ve committed one of these nine sins or not – are guilty of sinning against Him. That’s the bad news.

But, in Christianity, we never give the bad news without following it up with the good news. And, oh what wonderfully good news it is: forgiveness. Jesus paid for our sin at Calvary so that if we will only turn from it and trust Him, He will forgive us for all nine of these sins and countless others.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

Forgiveness, Mailbag

The Mailbag: Can unforgiveness cause you to you lose your salvation?

 

Can unforgiveness cause me to lose my salvation?

Forgiving (or refusing to forgive) others as it relates to our salvation is such an important issue. I’m so glad you asked!

Let’s break this question down a bit.

Can you lose your salvation?

The first thing we need to tackle is whether or not someone whom Christ has genuinely saved can lose her salvation – for unforgiveness or any other reason. And the answer to that question is no.

Why? The short answer is that if God saves someone, and that person can subsequently “unsave” herself, that makes her more powerful than God, which, as we know, can’t happen. You can’t save yourself, and you can’t unsave yourself. Salvation is all of God.

When God saves you, you are His new creation in Christ. You can’t “uncreate” your new spiritual life any more than you can “uncreate” your body, or a tree, or a planet. You can kill or do damage to those things, but you cannot reverse God’s creative process. To use another example, oh so relevant to today, God created you female. You can mutilate your body til kingdom come trying to appear male, but that will not change the fact that at your genetic level – the very essence of your being – you are female. And you can’t undo that because God created you that way, and you’re not more powerful than God. If you can’t even change God’s creation of your physical body, how in the world can you change God’s creation of your spiritual being?

In addition to the fact that you can’t uncreate the new creature God has created you to be, you need to remember that the moment God saves you, He forgives all your sins, past, present, and future, and robes you in the righteousness of Christ. That swear word you’re going to say next week? Already forgiven. That lie you’re going to tell five years from now? Already forgiven. And if you decide to commit the sin of refusing to forgive someone, that sin has already been forgiven too. (So since all our sins are already forgiven, we can just commit as much sin as we want and we don’t have to worry about it, right? Wrong.) We still need to confess those sins to God and be cleansed from them because they disrupt our fellowship with God, but in His accounting office, that sin debt has already been marked “paid in full”.

Furthermore, Jesus tells us plainly that if He’s got you, He’s got you:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

No one. That includes you and your sin. The power of your sin is not greater than God’s power to forgive that sin.

They will never perish. To say that a person about which Jesus Himself has said, “I give them eternal life,” can lose her salvation is to call Jesus a liar. He says that person “will never perish.” End of story.

Still not convinced that someone whom Christ has genuinely saved can’t lose her salvation? Try these passages on for size.

Now the reason it can look to us like someone can lose her salvation comes from two places: experience and misunderstanding the Bible.

Experience:
It’s happened plenty of times in the past, but in the last few weeks, we’ve seen two high profile evangelicals “walk away from the faith,”: Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson. Maybe you know someone personally – a friend, a loved one, even a pastor – who gave every appearance of being a Christian and then suddenly left Christianity, and the church, behind.

How does this compute when the Bible teaches that genuinely born again Christians cannot lose their salvation? Well, we need to remember something else the Bible teaches that’s very important:

Not everyone who claims to be a Christian actually is one.

Some people consciously know they’re not really saved and are just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of others. But many (my guess is “most” – these days there’s not a lot of social cachet in calling yourself a Christian) are deceived into believing they’re saved. Maybe they heard some sort of unbiblical gospel presentation and have put their faith in a decision they made in response. Maybe they just assume they’re saved because they’re good church-going people and their church doesn’t teach them otherwise. Who knows? It could be a lot of things. But we know for sure that there are many people who call themselves Christians and believe they are Christians who aren’t. Why? Because the Bible says so:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew 7:21-23

Many will say”…False converts are common, not few and far between. And it’s not just your average Joe or Jane in the pew, either. People who “prophesy…cast out demons…do mighty works” under the auspices of Christianity? They’re pastors, elders, deacons, Bible study teachers, seminary professors, “Christian” authors, evangelical celebrities. And Christ does not know them, because they don’t know Him. They talk the talk, and might even look like they walk the walk, but they’ve never truly believed the biblical gospel, repented of their sin, and trusted the Jesus of Scripture to save them. First John 2:18-19 puts it this way:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.

People whom Jesus has genuinely saved may fall into sin for a season, but they do not fall away from the faith. Those who leave the faith were never part of it in the first place, despite appearances or their claims to the contrary. It might be difficult, but this is one of those occasions when we have to believe what Scripture says over what we can see.

Jesus also tells us in the parable of the sower that there will be be “rocky ground” folks who will appear to be Christians, but because they have no root, they “endure for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.” Jesus follows up this parable with the parable of the wheat and tares which further drives home His point that there will be impostors in the visible church.

So even though we observe people who appear to be Christians “falling away from the faith,” through unforgiveness or any other sin, we know that what’s really happening is that a lost person got tired of pretending to be saved and went back to being a lost person. Second Peter 2:22 puts it this way:

What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

If Christ has never fundamentally changed your spiritual nature from dog or pig into a new creature in Christ, you’re still a dog or a pig. And even if you manage to clean up on the outside you’ll eventually return to the vomit of being a dog and the mud of being a pig because that’s your nature.

Misunderstood Scripture
There are passages in the Bible that, when misunderstood, when taken out of their immediate context, or when taken out of the overall context of Scripture can seem to teach that a person can lose her salvation. But as we’ve seen, there are way too many rightly handledin context passages of Scripture that refute that idea.

Can you lose your salvation by refusing to forgive someone?

You mentioned in your original question that you believe unforgiveness can cause someone to lose her salvation because, “It is so clear in so many ways in Scripture, even parables that Jesus told.” But, you did not mention any of the Scriptures you think teach this. My guess is that one of the Scriptures you’re thinking of is Matthew 6:14-15:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

In context, we can see that these two verses come at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. In verse 12, Jesus has just taught us to pray that God would “forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors,” and He’s giving us a little addendum on this in 14-15.

Remember, even though all our sins from birth to death were forgiven at the moment of our salvation, we still need to confess our sins in prayer and ask God to cleanse us from our wrongdoing to bring us back into right fellowship with Him. But if you’re willfully in the middle of committing the sin of unforgiveness against someone, you’re still actively sinning. You haven’t turned from that sin in order to be cleansed. You’re essentially rolling around in the mud and asking God to cleanse you while you have no intention of getting out of the mud. How is that supposed to work? It doesn’t make any sense. If you want to get cleaned up (“forgiven”), you have to get out of the mud (stop committing the sin of unforgiveness – “forgive”). Otherwise, you’re asking God to restore the fellowship you’re still actively damaging with your sin.

Another passage you might be thinking of is the parable of the unforgiving servant. The takeaway from this passage is not that God will rescind the salvation of Christians who commit the sin of unforgiveness. This passage doesn’t say that and we already know that idea conflicts with what Scripture teaches about the security of the Believer.

The takeaway from this passage is that God has forgiven us a sin debt that is incomprehensible. Knowing and having experienced that forgiveness, how could we not forgive some paltry little sin another human commits against us? First John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us,” and the way He loved us was to forgive us our sin. So we also forgive because He first forgave us. And if we can giddily and unrepentantly harbor unforgiveness in our hearts against someone else, we’d better start testing ourselves against Scripture to see if we’re really in the faith. Because that kind of unforgiveness is not the fruit of a redeemed life, it’s the fruit of someone who’s unsaved.

 

No, a genuinely regenerated Christian cannot lose her salvation by committing the sin of unforgiveness. But if she is genuinely regenerated, she will repent of that sin and forgive.

Additional Resources:

Walking Away from Faith? at A Word Fitly Spoken Podcast

Am I Really Saved? A 1 John Check Up


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.