God's forgiveness is ongoing and limitless, and available to all who truly accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior.
Matthew 18:21-35 "Then came Peter to him (Jesus), and said, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I must forgive him? Seven times?'
Jesus said to him, 'I won't tell you "seven times," but seventy times seven.' Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king that would settle accounts with his servants. When he began to reckon with them, one was brought to him that owed him ten thousand talents. But since he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all that he possessed, so that payment could be made. Therefore, the servant fell down and besought him, saying, 'Lord, have patience with me and I will pay you all of it!'
Then the master of the servant was moved with compassion and let him loose, and forgave his debt.
But the servant went out and found one of his fellow servants that owed him a hundred pence, and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' And his fellow servant fell down at his feet and besought him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will pay you all of it!' But he would have none of it, and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.
So, now, when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told their master all that was done. Then, his master, after he called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you desired it of me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just like I had pity on you?'
And his master was very angry, and delivered him to be tortured until he should repay everything that was due. So, this is like my heavenly Father will do toward you if you do not forgive every brother's trespasses."
(Jesus' answer to Peter's question, including this parable, is to show the depths of God's mercy and forgiveness toward us. We are shown here that we are to do the same toward others as God does toward us. You and I are the servant who owed more than he could ever pay. We are completely forgiven. Therefore, of all people, we should be the most forgiving.
The one who is not forgiving, yet professes to be a Christian, needs to know the terms of forgiveness. Simply stated, we are still in the grip of our sin if we cannot forgive, for to withhold forgiveness is a sin. A sin, unrepented of, cannot be forgiven.
That is why it states here, and also in the outline of prayer (Matthew 6:12-15), that we are forgiven as we forgive. If we do not forgive as we are forgiven, then we are refusing to repent of a grave error.)
(Are we to forgive only those who come begging for forgiveness? Are we to forgive only those who satisfy us that they have sufficiently repented? God does not leave any room for us to be unforgiving. To withhold forgiveness is a prerogative of God alone. Only God can look on the heart, and know the calloused, unrepentant, and reprobate attitude that requires withholding of forgiveness. When God withholds forgiveness, it is the first step that leads to eternal condemnation. That is why we do not have the license to withhold forgiveness.
The following passages give an example of the kind of forgiveness that is expected of us. It is the account of Stephen, who was falsely accused and brought to trial before the religious authorities in order to silence him. Stephen was doing wonderful miracles by the power of God, and the religious "powers that be" were threatened by his powerful witness.
After Stephen was arrested, he was inspired to deliver a sermon to his accusers. This did not go over too well. These verses begin where he has just finished his sermon, chastising and deeply offending the Council.)
Acts 7:54-60 "When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God!' Then they cried out loudly, and covered their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And when they stoned Stephen, he was calling upon God, and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!' And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge!' And when he had said this, he died."
(Stephen forgave the unrepentant sinners, and prayed that God would do the same. That should be our attitude. From then on it is between the other person and God.)
2 Corinthians 2:10 Paul writes, "...to whom you forgive anything, I forgive also, for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it for your sakes, I forgave it in the person of Christ."
(Christ works in us to empower this kind of limitless forgiveness. To be so willing to forgive is against human nature. It is a Godly attribute, not a human one. Christ does not command us to do what he would not do himself. Indeed, it is Christ in us who forgives without limit. If we can do this through the power of the Holy Spirit, how much more can he who is that Spirit forgive us?)
Luke 23:33-34 "And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do...."
(Jesus prayed for forgiveness for those who had committed the greatest affront against him. They were not repentant. His attitude was one of forgiveness, because their judgement was yet to come. When we refuse to forgive, we are judging the one we refuse to forgive. When we forgive, we are foregoing judgement.
When we pray to the Father that he, too, will forgive them, we are simply praying with full knowledge of the implications of our prayer - that God will somehow, someday, bring them to repentance. Our forgiveness for them can not wait until that time of future repentance, since we may not even be around when it happens. If this is the case, then we risk having a brother in Christ whom we have not forgiven. Think about it.)
(There is a single apparent exception to God's admonition to forgive. That is in dealing with the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. To some, it appears to be a contradiction. We must study this apparent exception carefully. The truth is always without self-contradiction. If it seems we have found contradiction, then it is because of the incompleteness of our own understanding of the truth.
So, if God is willing to forgive without limitation, then why is there an "unforgivable sin?" Let's see if the Bible tells us the truth, and removes the apparent contradiction. This will take a little time, because there is so much confusion surrounding this concept.)
Matthew 12:31-32 "Wherefore I say to you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven men, and whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come."
Mark 3:28-29 "Truly, I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and blasphemies, however they shall blaspheme, but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit does not have forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation."
(The key to understanding these statements in the light of the complete context of the new covenant teaching about forgiveness is this: as long as we live we will not cease to sin. We will also have sins of which we are unrepentant. To "repent" means to change one's way of thinking. Every person has sins that they harbor, scars that are not healed, desires that are unholy, ways in which they fall short. As long as we live in this imperfect flesh, God forgives us of our sins if we acknowledge (confess) them. So, why doesn't God forgive blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
When Jesus warned of this sin, he said that blasphemy against his own person would be forgiven. It is recorded in Mark's gospel that all sins and blasphemies but this one against the Holy Spirit shall be forgiven.
If blasphemies against Jesus Christ are forgivable, and blasphemies against God the Father are forgivable, then why not blasphemies against the Holy Spirit. God is God, is he not? Is God more pure and holy as the Holy Spirit, and less pure and holy as Father or Son, to the degree that the same sin (blasphemy against God) would be unforgivable in the one instance, but forgivable in the others?
The critical difference here is the sinner's ignorance. By ignorance, I mean a lack of understanding of the sin. That is why, when Jesus was dying on the cross, he said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Jesus walked among the people, and spoke to them with his voice, to their ears, and some "had ears to hear" and gained understanding. Some "kicked against the goads" of their conscience, but later succumbed to the urging of the Spirit. Some did not respond at all to Jesus' voice, and blasphemed against him and the Father that sent him. That blasphemy did not condemn them for eternity. So why is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit seemingly on another level, a sin that is not forgiven?
The reason is this. The Holy Spirit always speaks to the heart, on the spiritual level. There is no doubt as to the source when God contacts us Spirit to spirit. Then, if one openly and knowingly opposes God, knowing that he is God, and willfully remains in this state of open rebellion, with no desire to repent, and with full knowledge of their error, they stand in the path of destruction. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. It convicts the heart of its error. The heart thus convicted knows the truth that is revealed to it.
These scribes that Jesus was warning knew the Spirit was of God, and proclaimed it to be of the Devil! Jesus told them that if they stood by this lie, they were in danger of eternal damnation. They stood guilty as accused, but as long as they still had breath they could repent. He was calling on them to repent. This is not a sin that can be simply confessed, but must be completely repented of. You cannot oppose God from the depths of your being, with full knowledge of what you are doing, and expect to be forgiven while you continue in such an unholy and reprobate state of heart.
All other blasphemies and sins are to be forgiven, because people can, and do, live their lives out wrestling with the flesh, sinning and blaspheming. In fact, whenever we sin, the name of God is blasphemed, yet God always forgives us. Do you understand what I am saying, my brothers and sisters? God's mercy is so great, he actually forgives us while we are sinners. Our sinful "flesh" is considered "circumcised," cut away and removed, from the "spiritual person" that we have become. But, by comparison, the person who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is still in the flesh, and still in their sins, and if they continue to refuse to believe that Jesus is the Christ, even when convicted in their hearts of the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit, they will indeed die in their sins.
It is conditional. Their forgiveness simply waits on their willingness to accept it! Jesus said to the people, in John 8:21-24, that they would die in their sins, if they refused to believe that he is the Messiah. He said, in verse 21, "...you shall seek me, and shall die in you sins...." Taken out of context, this would seem like an irreversible sentence for an unforgivable sin. But, in verse 24, he says, "I said therefore to you that 'you shall die in you sins,' for IF you do not believe that I am, you shall die in your sins." As long as the big "if" was in effect, they would die in their sins. But, when they ceased to resist, and began to believe, they would be forgiven.
Anyone who receives the opportunity to respond, and willfully and knowingly refuses to accept the loving gift of salvation from their Heavenly Father, stands guilty and remains in their sins and under the penalty of death. It is they who willfully continue to refuse forgiveness, so they are not forgiven.
Stephen prayed that his executioners' sins not be counted against them. Stephen was not so ignorant of God's will and purpose that he was simply blowing hot air, and praying a vain prayer.
Likewise, Jesus on the cross prayed that his executioners' would be forgiven. Didn't Jesus know the will of God? Couldn't it be expected that his prayers would be asked in accordance with God's will? Of course, they both knew God's will. There was still opportunity for change. God does not judge before the day of judgement. The unconverted and unbelieving are not pre-judged for eternity at some arbitrary low point in their life.
There is an example in the Old Testament book of Jonah that we can look to for an example of the way God thinks and operates. Jonah was told to go to Ninevah, a great Gentile city, and preach to them that they were to be overthrown in 40 days because of their wickedness. Yet, the people believed God and repented, and their judgement was overturned by their own repentance. As long as there is time to repent, our judgement is conditional upon our repentance. So it is, and always will be.
Now, let me say this. God stands ready to forgive all sin, and every sin. All it requires is our acceptance of that forgiveness. When we do not accept the perfect and limitless forgiveness of God for every sin, no matter how heinous and abominable and ungodly the sin, then we say, in effect, that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is insufficient for the forgiveness of all sins! John writes, in 1 John 1:7, that "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sins."
For the Christian, all sins are forgiveable. To say that some sins are not forgiveable is a lie of Satan. How do we know we are forgiven? If we hate what we have done, and desire to be forgiven, we are forgiven. The heart that remains hardened against the urging of the Holy Spirit will not desire or seek forgiveness, except perhaps to avoid punishment.
If you are regretful and fearful that you may have committed the "unpardonable sin," then you have not committed it. Your very attitude of regret and sorrow tells your heart that it is not hardened against God. It is only a sinful heart yearning to be forgiven. If this describes you, then God is ready and willing to forgive you now, and to take you in his ever-loving arms forever.
Remember: The one who remains unforgiven is the one who has no desire to be forgiven. If you desire forgiveness, then forgiveness is yours. Accept forgiveness for your sins. To do otherwise would be an affront to the limitless grace and mercy of God.
If I am speaking to you, may God now lift that burden from your heart and give you peace, because your Father has never ceased to love you. )
1 John 5:16-17 "If anyone should see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for those that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death. I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death."
(Remember Stephen, how he prayed for his executioners? By praying for them, he prayed for their future repentance and conversion. He did not pray that they would be forgiven and given the gift of eternal life if they continued to oppose God until their dying day. Likewise, John teaches us that we should pray for others when we are aware of their sins. So what sin should we not pray for, the sin that is "unto death?"
The word "unto" is the Greek "pros," which has the meaning of "towards." It has the idea of motion or direction towards a thing, or close proximity to a thing. There is only one sin that leads to eternal death, and results in loss of eternal life. That is the sin of opposition to the Holy Spirit, unrepented of. Those were the words of Jesus Christ, and we must accept them.
Jesus said all other sins and blasphemies would be forgiven. That is the word of God in the matter.
This also brings out another marvelous fact. Our intervention, both in prayer and action, has the potential to save, for the Savior works in and through us, his church. That is why it says, in James 5:19-20, "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one converts him, let him know that he who converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."
As David wrote, we can also say, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit is no guile....I acknowledged my sin unto you, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord,' and you forgave the iniquity of my sin....(Psalm 32:1-2,5) That is why David repeated 26 times, in the 136th Psalm, as he recounted God's actions from the creation to the time of David's present, "His mercy endures forever!")
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