By Gary Chapman
God does not forgive everyone. He forgives those who repent of their sin, place their faith in Christ, and accepts his forgiveness. The Christian who sins and refuses to repent will be disciplined by God, Hebrews 12: 5-6. The discipline is designed to bring us to confession and repentance. When that happens, God freely forgives us and our fellowship is restored. That is the fundamental pattern for forgiveness in human relationships. There are three distinct elements to the cycle of forgiveness: 1) A sin is committed. 2) Confession and repentance on the part of the one who sinned. 3) Forgiveness on the part of the one who was sinned against. Jesus spells this out clearly in Luke 17:3.
When confession and repentance are not forthcoming, we are instructed to confront the offender. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus indicated that if the first confrontation does not invoke repentance, we should take someone with us in a second effort. And then share it with the larger group of the church. If, after the third effort, the offender persists in sinful behavior, he/she is to be treated as an unbeliever. This means that we pray for them and we return good for evil. But it does not mean that the relationship is mended. God has not forgiven them, nor does he expect us to forgive them. However, we must, as God does, stand ready to forgive if and when the offender repents.
Typically an offense in a marriage stimulates hurt and anger in the heart of the one who is offended. The anger should lead us to confrontation, hoping for repentance so that we can forgive. When repentance is not forthcoming, we must release our anger to God who judges righteously, Romans 12: 19-21. As we release the anger to God and place the offender in God’s hands, we can now “return good for evil.” This is precisely what Jesus did when he was offended. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly,” 1Peter 2:23. Jesus put the offenders in the hands of his father, who is both loving and just, and stands ready to forgive all who will repent. That is the biblical pattern for us. We must never allow anger to live in our hearts. We must always be ready to forgive when an erring spouse turns from their sin and reaches out in confession.