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Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 5 months ago

Thinking about Forgiveness

Here’s a way to think about forgiveness that might be a bit challenging to how many of us were taught to think about forgiveness. Personally, I fought this idea tooth and nail until I did a Biblical survey of all of the relevant texts and reached a conclusion that was surprising to myself.


Unilateral vs Bilateral Forgiveness Models

There are two basic models of forgiveness. One is the unilateral model and the other is the bilateral model.


The Unilateral Model

Most of us were raised with the unilateral model of forgiveness. We learned that forgiveness is the responsiblity of the sinned against. In fact, we may have even told people ourselves that if they don’t forgive someone who has sinned against them that they are in sin themselves. We took the words of Jesus about forgiveness in part, because we did not see them in whole. In the process, the people we told to forgive were often revictimized by us when they were unable to forgive their offender.


We said that the person who does not forgive is only harming themselves taking our lead from the pop-psychology movement.


We short-circuited the God given sense of justice that is in the sinned against person. We may even have suggested some sort of secret ritual where suggested forgiving a person without even communicating that in any way to the one who was forgiven. We did not leave judgment to God.


I no longer believe that the unilateral model fits the whole counsel of Scripture. What really fits the Biblical record the best?


The Bilateral Model

The Bilateral model of forgiveness sees forgiveness as an exchange. It involves the repentance of the sinner and the forgiveness of the one who was sinned against. The goal is reconciliation. It recognizes that God has placed in every person a need for justice. Repentance produces works which show the repentance. Repentance is a change of mind which results in a change of actions.


In the bilateral model forgiveness is an exchange. Forgiveness should always be offered by the sinned against. It may not be received by the sinner. As Christians we must be willing to offer forgiveness, but we cannot grant it until the other person repents. Our sin comes if we do not accept their repentance.


God is our Model

God is our model in all of this. God offers forgiveness. Jesus died for the sins of the entire world. But not everyone is forgiven? Why not? Because it has to be received with repentance. If forgiveness with God is the form of an exchange then why should it be different with us?


If we are always to forgiven then why would the Scriptures say this? John 20:23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.


David Allender's newer book on forgiveness covers this subject quite well.



Calvary pastor, Rick Coburn presented a passage as proof for the unilateral forgiveness model.


Luke 23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.


That passage is a very special case that any theology of forgiveness needs to take into account. The key question is “Who was it that Jesus was asking God to forgive?” Was he unilaterially forgiving the ones who delivered Him to be killed? Was he asking for those who hammered in the nails to be forgiven? Or, asking for all of us, you and me down through time?


I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for this passage but the one that won’t fly is that Jesus forgave people who knowingly did what they did. The words of Jesus about the High Priest show this to be true.


Joh 19:11 Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.


Pilate had a great sin but the High Priest had a greater one. He was the one who delivered Jesus to be killed. Jesus spoke of the “days of vengeance” which would come upon the disobedient sons of Israel because they killed Him. If he forgave every single person why did he speak of vengeance?


Luk 21:22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

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