The Evangelical Universalist Forum

A Fuller Article on True Forgiveness

Luke 17:3 Watch yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

Jesus gave repentance (a change of heart and mind) as a condition for forgiveness of wrongdoing.

Three Factors of true forgiveness of someone who has sinned against you.

  1. If you have any ill feelings toward the offender, you let go of those feelings.
  2. You don’t demand any restitution from the offender.
  3. Your relationship with the offender is restored.

But all three cannot happen unless the offender repents—changes his mind about his ongoing sin and departs from its practice.

Many people think you can forgive a person who has sinned against you without their repentance.

You can let go of ill feelings and not demand restitution (#1 and #2) but that is pardoning the offender, not forgiving him. Your relationship with him will never be the same unless he repents. But many think you can forgive someone without restoring your relationship with him. I have heard people say, “Yes, I forgave him. But I’m not going to go out for lunch with him.” Is that really forgiveness? What if God said to us, “I forgave you. But don’t bother praying to me; I won’t listen.” No. If God has truly forgiven us our sin against him, then our relationship with Him has been restored. But that is contingent upon our repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness. Pardon is possible, yes, but not forgiveness.

In the March, 1998 issue of the Reader’s Digest, Dennis Prager wrote an article entitled “The sin of forgiveness.”

Dennis wrote:

The bodies of the three teenage girls murdered by a fellow student at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky were not yet cold, let alone buried, before the students of the prayer group that was shot at announced, “We forgive you, Mike,” referring to Michael Carneal, 14, the murderer.

Apparently, a huge sign was erected by the young people of the city with the words, “We forgive you, Mike.” What message did this send to the unrepentant Mike? Did it send the message that what he did was acceptable, and that he could repeat the offense if he wanted to with impunity?

If a person has committed a blunder, or unintentional trespass, he nothing to repent of. So you might tell him that you won’t hold what he did against him. But there is nothing to forgive. No relationship with the person was broken, there is no relationship to restore. There is nothing even to pardon.

One other matter. The Greek word that is translated as “forgiveness” does not always mean “forgiveness”. The verbal form was used for Jesus LEAVING the crowds and going up into the mountain to pray. Also, some of our translations read that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins. But Jesus forgave people’s sins many times while he walked this earth BEFORE he died! I suggest that the clause should be translated that Jesus died for the forsaking of sins or the leaving behind of sins.

In conclusion, the bottom line is that if someone has committed a morally wrong act, he must repent, change his mind about his act in order to be truly forgiven.


I really like your distinction between pardon and forgive. It gets to the heart of the matter.