Posted in theology

Do we forgive people who haven’t said ‘I’m sorry’?

By Elizabeth Prata

Forgiveness is a Christian activity we should have on our heart and mind often. When Mike Riccardi preached at Grace Community Church recently he addressed the topic. Later on his Facebook page, he posted Albert Martin’s words. Someone asked him a question that I’ve been asked, and it was a question I’ve often wondered myself. Are we supposed to forgive a person who is unrepentant of their sin against you?

First, Albert Martin words posted from Mike Riccardi:

The one who forgives makes a solemn four-pronged promise. When you say to someone who has asked your forgiveness for a specific sin, ‘I forgive you,’ you are making this promise:

1. I will not knowingly remember this thing against you.

2. I will not speak of this thing to any others.

3. I will not raise it with you again.

4. I will not allow it to be a barrier in the restoration of our relationship.

I grew up in an Italian family. There were certain things I was taught, either implicitly or explicitly. One was that we must hold grudges. If a wrong done to us was bad enough, you turn a grudge turned into a vendetta. Secondly, the longer you hold a grudge or perpetuate a vendetta, the stronger you looked to others. Naturally in the family there were arguments, splits, and anger abounding. Segments of the family that were “not talking” to others. People were ‘in’ or they were ‘out’. Sigh. Needless to say, forgiveness offered was fairly unknown. So was seeking forgiveness. So, needless to say, after I came to Christ (thankfully!) I had a hard time understanding the concept of forgiveness.

After Mike Riccardi’s post above had been up a while, a lady asked this question based on the 4 points:

Should this be our promise even if one does not ask for forgiveness?

Mike Riccardi answered:

“Otherwise sound Bible teachers disagree on this point, namely, whether mutual forgiveness (sinner to sinner) is to be conditional (as is God’s forgiveness of us, conditioned upon genuine repentance) or unconditional (unlike God’s forgiveness of us).”

“I am one who takes the former position: that the Bible makes a distinction between the disposition or readiness to forgive (e.g., Ps 86:5) and forgiveness itself, and instructs us to always cultivate that disposition or readiness to forgive, such that there is never any bitterness or vengeance in the heart, and such that the moment that forgiveness is genuinely sought from us we grant it eagerly from the heart.”

“But at the same time, I believe the Bible teaches that the actual conferral of forgiveness, by definition, only happens when an offending party confesses and seeks forgiveness from an offended party. I base that on a couple of strands of biblical teaching.”

  1. The distinction between the readiness to forgive and forgiveness, as above.
  2. The consistent teaching that God’s forgiveness of sinners (which is conditioned upon the sinner’s confession and repentance) is to be the pattern of our forgiveness of one another—not only explicitly in passages like Eph 4:32 and Col 3:13, but also indicated by the fact that the very same terms are used for God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of one another. If God does not confer forgiveness upon any except those “who call upon” Him, but rather stands “ready to forgive” them (Ps 86:5), then this ought to be our practice as well.
  3. Luke 17:3-4 seems to me to be the clearest passage in which this topic is dealt with, and Jesus’ instruction is explicitly conditional: Be on your guard! “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Here, forgiveness is explicitly conditioned upon repentance. I simply cannot square the teaching of unconditional forgiveness with the “if-then” conditional statements in this passage.

“But again, let me repeat: this does not mean I think we should cherish an unforgiving spirit or nurse resentment against someone who has sinned against us but who hasn’t come to seek our forgiveness. Both I (who think forgiveness is conditional) and the one who thinks forgiveness is unconditional believe that the Christian’s behavior should look exactly the same in this scenario—cultivating a cheerful disposition and readiness to forgive, eliminating any vengefulness or bitterness in their spirit against the other person, behaving happily and without rancor toward him even before he asks forgiveness. The only difference is in what we call that behavior (readiness to forgive vs. forgiveness itself); there’s no distinction in any behavior itself. Hope that helps.” –end Riccardi quote

It does help. A biblically based answer to a Christian life question is always helpful. So, have a soft heart and abounding love for others in the faith, always being ready to forgive, but actively conferring it only if the offending party has sought it. And don’t nurse bitterness.

I noticed that in my family, nursing grudges and fanning the flames of anger is a heavy baggage. It is a burdensome load to carry around. If a person who genuinely wronged us seeks forgiveness, the Holy Spirit empowers us to be genuinely forgiving. And once we release that load, how light we feel! How clearly we can see the other person’s pain and hurt. We should be empathetic to the person who wronged us, because people don’t usually hurt us out of malice. They’re hurting too. Clearing that up with the fragrance of forgiveness heals wounds.

But on the other hand, it was good to read that we are not doormats, not allowing every kind of behavior and forgiving it whether the person is sorry or not. I, too, agree that if the person comes to you, we should be ready to forgive.

Some years ago I accompanied the kindergarten class on a field trip to the Fire Station. Of course the kids were excited to see the big shiny trucks and all the gear. The firemen explained how they are always ready to race out and fight a fire. They do a lot of work in advance of a fire. Firefighters make sure the truck is clean and everything stored in its place. Even their personal gear is ready, down to the boots they can hop into, so they can race out to do their job immediately. A Christian should likewise be actively preparing ahead of time for the moment we can forgive.

Cultivate a soft heart, be ready to forgive if the person coms to you, and don’t feel guilty about not conferring forgiveness if they haven’t. Your cultivation of forgiveness will be ready for the next person to come to you!

Posted in theology

Love Thy Neighbor? That’s only half of it

By Elizabeth Prata

We hear the term ‘love they neighbor’ a lot. We hear it so frequently that it’s almost a motto or a mantra, bandied about. But it’s a Bible verse, which means it’s spoken from the mouth of God. ‘Love thy neighbor’ is also not the whole verse. The verse is in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The verse is known as The Greatest Commandment. The first part of the verse is to love God with all your mind, heart, and strength. The second part is to love your neighbor. Here it is in full-

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18). Emphasis added.

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40). Emphasis added.

We are commended to love thy neighbor AS THYSELF. There are two parts to this concept I am addressing in this essay.

1. What does it mean to love someone as myself?

Barnes’ Notes explains

To this he added another – the duty of loving our neighbor, Leviticus 19:18. This Christ declared to be the second great commandment of the law, Matthew 22:39.

This commandment means, evidently:
1. that we should not injure our neighbor in his person, property, or character.
2. that we should not be selfish, but should seek to do him good.
3. that in a case of debt, difference, or debate, we should do what is right, regarding his interest as much as our own.
4. that we should treat his character, property, etc., as we do our own, according to what is right.
5. that, in order to benefit him, we should practice self-denial, or do as we would wish him to do to us, Matthew 7:12.

2. Secondly, what is love? Defined according to Strong’s from the Greek word Agapeo, it is,

preferring to “live through Christ” (1 Jn 4:9, 10), i.e. embracing God’s will (choosing His choices) and obeying them through His power. agapáō (“to love”) means actively doing what the Lord prefers, with Him (by His power and direction).

Sadly, I have seen this verse used as a twisted cover by an increasingly perverse culture to mean that we should love homosexuality. Of course we love the person, they are a neighbor. But the twist the culture puts onto this verse is that we should also love their sin, because, they say, “it is who they are”, as if homosexuality is a biological part of a person’s identity and nothing can be done to alter it. “Loving your neighbor” has become code for accepting all behavior, including, in this culture & time, the sin of homosexuality.

The other verse I often see twisted in this way, as a cover to accept homosexuality, is 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love being kind does not mean we avoid telling people the Gospel, which includes condemnation for sin. Yes, it’s awkward to tell somone they are a sinner (as we all are, and someone had told us). Conversations like that often spark anger, because the pride from which all sin stems rears up in rage. It feels unloving at the time. But this culture insists that if we share the condemnation of God for sins, including (and especially) the sin of homosexuality, we are not being kind and we’re therefore unloving.

Loving our neighbor means sharing the Good News of the Gospel. We are all sinners, and we need a savior. The savior is Jesus. He came down from heaven, lived a perfectly holy life, and sacrificed Himself on the cross so that His blood would cover the sins of the people God had elected to salvation before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4). If we repent, Jesus forgives us and he becomes the door through which we enter heaven. His righteousness is given to us and that is how God sees us forevermore, righteous in His Son.

Gill’s Exposition says of the loving one’s neighbor verse,

This law supposes, that men should love themselves, or otherwise they cannot love their neighbour; not in a sinful way by indulging themselves in carnal lusts and pleasures; some are lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; but in a natural way, so as to be careful of their bodies, families, and estates; and in a spiritual way, so as to be concerned for their souls, and the everlasting happiness of them: [emphasis added]

and in like manner should men love their neighbours, in things temporal do them all the good they can, and do no injury to their persons or property; and in things spiritual pray for them, instruct them, and advise as they would their own souls, or their nearest and dearest relations. And this is to be extended to every man;

The world calls it hate but it’s love. See how condemnation and compassion are simply two sides of the same coin:

How should you respond to the success of the gay agenda? Should you accept the recent trend toward tolerance? Or should you side with those who exclude homosexuals with hostility and disdain?

In reality, the Bible calls for a balance between what some people think are two opposing reactions—condemnation and compassion. Really, the two together are essential elements of biblical love, and that’s something the homosexual sinner desperately needs.

We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, through Jesus and embracing God’s will. It is not God’s will to accept homosexuality as a loving part of a person. It’s a sin. It is loving to share the news that one can be forgiven of this sin and released from bondage to satan through it. It’s the same with any besetting or occasional sin one commits. We can be forgiven if we repent. Loving a person but leaving them in their sin is only half the story- and it’s not love, it’s hate.


Further resources


What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

Thinking biblically about homosexuality


Posted in prophecy, Uncategorized

Ex-Wham! singer George Michael dead

At age 53, on Christmas day afternoon, it appears that George Michael has died “peacefully at his home”. Fox News, BBC, UK Mirror, Business Insider confirm. Here is TMZ

George Michael passed away at his home in England at the age of 53 … his rep confirms.

A rep for the pop star says, “It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period.”

Details surrounding Michael’s death have not been released. Police say there’s nothing suspicious about the death, according to the BBC. George was a music legend — and sold more than 100 MILLION albums during his career. Michael launched his career with WHAM! in the ’80s — churning out hits like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper.

The immediate thought whenever a celebrity or local person dies, is always, ‘I wonder if they are surprised at their eternity’. Either way, whether the person died in their sin or they died in Jesus, the fact of their eternity becomes real one second after breath expires, and is a billion times worse, or a billion times better, than he could ever conceive while on earth.

I have a connection to George Michael. I’m 56 years old, three years older than he was, and grew up on his songs. I wasn’t saved until I was in my forties, so I enjoyed pop songs with all the range of lyrics from sweet to profane, for half my adult life. I liked Wham! and I liked George Michael’s songs.

But even more than that, music is so forceful especially when you’re a teen and young adult. The lyrics feel almost alive, embedding themselves into one’s brain and heart to settle intimately with the very sinews and tendons of the body, becoming part of us in ways that other leisure activities do not. You hear a certain song, it immediately takes you back, you’re swallowed in a memory with all its smells, feelings, and sensations as if it occurred a moment ago. At Psychology Today the question is asked,

Why Do the Songs from Your Past Evoke Such Vivid Memories?

We all know the power of an old song to trigger vivid memories that seem to transport us back in time and space. What songs bring back emotional memories from your past? The songs we love become woven into a neural tapestry entwined with the people, seasons, and locations throughout our lifespan. What is the neuroscience behind the ability of music to evoke such strong memories of the people and places from our past?

The discovery may help to explain why music can elicit strong responses from people with Alzheimer’s disease, said the study’s author, Petr Janata, associate professor of psychology at UC Davis’ Center for Mind and Brain. The hub that music activated is located in the medial prefrontal cortex region—right behind the forehead—and one of the last areas of the brain to atrophy over the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

The article goes on to describe findings from three different studies about the therapeutic potential the research can yield.

One of George Michael’s biggest hits was the song Careless Whisper. It is about a man expressing regret over the pain that his now-discovered adultery caused. It was a good song, but it was too real for me. It was on the radio when my ex-husband was engaged in adultery and leaving our marriage. This life-altering event occurred over thirty years ago, and the pain of one flesh being ripped back into two has simmered to long healed scar tissue, only occasionally flaring up…such as if I hear Careless Whisper again in an elevator…radio…or in the wake of George Michael’s death. The Careless Whisper is a whisper with teeth, ready to bite.

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (Hebrews 13:4)

It’s strange how life takes you and your loved ones on different paths. Neither my husband nor I were saved while we were married, but eventually I became saved by grace afterward. To my knowledge, he never was. He died unexpectedly 6 months ago as a young man of 58, and I wonder, did his eternity surprise him? Is he regretting his own careless whisper? There but for the grace of God go I…at any point prior to being saved if I had died my own eternity would have surprised me as I’d be punished for all my own many careless and careful sins.

Adultery is horrible, and it inflicts a particularly painful pain that which takes many decades to soften. The grace of God lifted mine and gave me the strength to overcome anger and bitterness and to forgive. The careless whisper of adultery brings pain and spiritual death. The careful whisper of Jesus on the cross is the guiding whisper of my life, ‘It is finished.’Even as His own breath expired, He brought life to His elect who are now forgiven in sins. The sin of adultery forgiven as all other sins are forgiven. What a difference in life and death Jesus makes.

Men, women, husbands, wives, I can tell you that adultery is terrible, whether it’s the person committing it or the person being committed against. I’ve experienced it, I’ve helped wives through it. It is a dastardly sin. Don’t do it.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18).

I can never hear that song by George Michael, his Careless Whisper, and not be immediately transported to my old sunny dining room, me with a Walkman sitting at the table doing the bills, and hearing the first notes of the mellow and sultry saxophone, turned up full blast on my ears, my heart breaking, my hands shaking.

My ex-husband died recently, and this brings its own sad weight to the grace-filled heart. The man who wrote and sang the song is now dead, too. One wonders, (hopes), they are enjoying bliss and not torment. My own sins are forgiven and I know the eternity that awaits me. We three, our own unholy trinity inside a song, inside the lyrics, blowing wind borne notes now at long last released, lifting into different destinies.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

Why you must forgive yourself

Recently I’d read the essay 7 Dangers of Embracing Mere Therapeutic Forgiveness and posted a link to it from this blog. The essay focused on the truth of forgiving others.

I’ve been preaching the past couple weeks on forgiveness. In preparing I’ve found Chris Brauns’ work, Unpacking Forgiveness, to be immensely helpful. A position that I have held for awhile now is that forgiveness isn’t simply about us. We don’t forgive someone primarily because we release ourselves from some prison of bitterness. Though that is certainly a benefit—we forgive because God forgave us.

Recently in a coincidence, our pastor explained the same concept, but from a different perspective. We usually focus more on the process and benefits of forgiving others, but what about forgiving ourselves? The scene he was preaching through was from Genesis 45. Joseph is revealing himself to his brothers, who had sold Joseph into slavery 13 years prior. He is reassuring his brothers that he is not angry and will not harm them. Genesis 45:5 says,

And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.

Joseph is a picture of Jesus. Joseph did the unthinkable, he forgave his brothers for selling him into lsavery and conspiring to murder him. Yet … note the part of the verse that says ‘do not be angry with yourselves’. People in the church today have made up this brand new phrase. It’s not anywhere in the Bible. It goes like this- “I know that God has forgiven me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” My pastor had explained it this way,

It’s a phrase that has become very popular in church circles. ‘I know that God of the Universe has forgiven me, big deal. The REAL issue is I just can’t forgive myself.’ I heard someone explain this issue in a way that shines new light, sheds new light on this issue. It made me never want to use the phrase. This is what I heard from one pastor. He said, “If you’re saying that if I know God has forgiven me, but I’m still angry at myself, I still can’t forgive myself, what you’re saying is, the blood of Jesus may be good enough for God, but the blood of Jesus is not good enough for me. I have higher standards than the God of the universe.” This means you have put yourself above God and you have higher standards than God. 

Also as an example, let’s say you did something at work, and you got fired. You did it. You did something wrong and you got fired. You say I know it was sinful and I’ve repented. I know God forgave me for this but I lost my job and I’m still mad at myself. I can’t forgive myself for what I did. This is a sign in that moment that the job was actually more important than God. The job had become my God-replacement. I was getting my meaning, my purpose, my worth and value, my joy. Now that I’ve ruined it, I just can’t move on. That would be an evidence that God hasn’t taken first place yet in your life.

Forgiveness is an attribute of God which demands our attention because it’s so integral to the Gospel. Jesus forgives us our original sin unto justification:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14).

Jesus forgives us our sins post-salvation when we repent:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:19).

In this verse, we learn about the infinite-ness of forgiveness. Such forgiveness includes riches of His grace (which is infinite), how it is dispensed (lavishly), and that it’s made known to us in all wisdom and insight.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10)

Do we have more wisdom than God and more insight as regards forgiveness within the place of His plan? What a ghastly thought! However that is exactly what we are saying when we say we know that God forgives us, but we just can’t seem to forgive ourselves.

On the surface it might sound pious and humble to say that you can’t forgive yourself, but it isn’t. If you knew you sinned and asked Jesus to forgive you, He has. Leave it with Him and go on about your business in confidence of His love and according to the riches of His grace.