This Week's Focus Passage

Luke 17:3 ‘And if he repent, forgive him.

Luke 17:3

‘And if he repent, forgive him.

And what if he does not repent? What if he refuses to repent? What if he hardens his heart? How did that work for Pharaoh? Jesus here disciples His disciples.

Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

This seems rather clear and simple, does it not? Evidently, it was not clear to Peter. For we learn of a similar situation being propounded by him unto Jesus. And it gives His answer to Peter. This is recorded for us in Matthew 18:21-22, where we read:

Then came Peter, and said to him, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.8

Initially, we are told through Christ’s words in Luke that we are to forgive seven times, and now in Matthew we find it amplified to the number of seventy times seven. On the surface, this seems beyond the ability of a man. To be expected to forgive someone 490 times? But of course, with Christ, we can do all things. This is the truth uttered by Paul in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things in him that strength-eneth me. The grace of God has enabled His people to do many things that they had never before thought possible. Without the grace of God, of course, it is impossible. William Hendriksen’s comments are to the point and thus most helpful; he wrote:

‘They should reprove the offender, and if he repents they should be quick to forgive him. Moreover, as in his answer to Peter’s question, recorded in Matt. 18:21, 22, so also here Jesus emphasizes that the spirit of forgiving love recognizes no boundaries or limitations. What Jesus means, therefore, is “Forgive the penitent without ever stopping.’

But, again, this is much easier said than done. As a renowned quipster uttered many years ago, ‘when all is said and done, there is a whole lot more said than done.’

It may well be that the next verse, verse 5, should not be separated by the paragraphic style often employed. It seems self-evident that verse five is the direct response of the disciples to Jesus’ exhortation to forgive those who repent and ask for forgiveness. The fifth verse informs us that the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. Faith would certainly be, not only a great help, but essential to the heart of the believing man or woman wishing to practice the forgiving spirit that our Savior here inculcates. Faith and hope that God will direct our hearts and minds to receive, from another, that which is offered to us in the way of a repentant plea for forgiveness in the matter of a fault, or sin, against us. Faith should, and will, as the answer to prayer, remind us that we are not capable of reading the mind of the penitent, much less knowing what is in their heart. The word of faith informs us that if he repent, forgive him. The faith given us will compel us to receive the confession that is offered; we are to receive it with charity and forgive the offence.

But to return to our opening question; what if he does not repent? There are many—perhaps even a majority—that are adamant that our forgiveness should be, as they say, unconditional. They will insist that we must forgive those sinning against us, no matter even if they refuse to repent. This is the finest expression of the love of Jesus Christ. They commonly refer to His utterance from the cross, as He prayed to His Father, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Surely, they say, we are to emulate our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What is the response to this? Is there a plausible response; a biblical response? One particular curmudgeon has offered a response. And many do consider Arthur Pink to be a cranky curmudgeon. But please reflect on what he has written on this matter. He asked the following:

‘Does God ever forgive sin where there is no repentance? No, for Scripture declares, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). One thing more. If one has injured me and repented not, while I cannot forgive him and treat him as though he had not offended, nevertheless, not only must I hold no malice in my heart against him, but I must also pray for him.’

Christ prayed the Father to forgive those crucifying Him, when He cried, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. His prayer necessarily included His asking the Father to give them repentance for apart from repentance there can be no forgiveness. The God-man knew that His Father would grant repentance to all those for whom His Son prayed. This is included in His prayer for the forgiveness of those crucifying Him. There is no forgiveness apart from repentance but God grants that which He commands. He promised to give new hearts to those for whom Christ laid down His life; Ezekiel 36:26;

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.

When God the Holy Spirit fulfills this promise of regenerating grace to all those for whom the Son has died, a new heart is granted, and with that new heart is given the gifts both of repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And an early fulfillment of that promise was granted when Peter preached his first sermon after Pentecost. When his hearers were pricked in their hearts and asked what to do, Peter told them Repent ye, and be baptized unto the remission of your sins.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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