Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

Probably one of the most common questions that you hear from people who don’t fully understand Christianity is this question: “why did Jesus have to die?”. The answer that most Christians seem to hold to is that 1) humans are rebelling against God, 2) Humans deserve punishment for their rebellion, 3) Humans cannot escape the punishment for their rebellion on their own, 4) Jesus was punished in the place of the rebellious humans, 5) Those who accept this sacrifice are forgiven for their rebelling.

Are humans rebellious?

Some people think that humans are not really rebellious at all, but it’s actually easy to see. You can see it just by looking at how people spend their time. Some of us have no time for God at all, and instead try to fill our lives with material possessions and experiences in order to have happy feelings. Some of us embrace just the parts of God that make us feel happy, like church and singing and feelings of comfort, while avoiding the hard parts of that vertical relationship; reading, thinking and disagreeing with people who don’t believe the truth about God. And so on.

This condition of being in rebellion is universal, and all of us are guilty of breaking the law at some point. All of us deserve to be separated from God’s goodness and love. Even if we wanted to stop rebelling, we would not be able to make up for the times where we do rebel by being good at other times, any more than we could get out of a speeding ticket by appealing to the times when we drove at the speed limit, (something that I never do, in any case).

This is not to say that all sinners are punished equally – the degree of punishment is proportional to the sins a person commits. However, the standard is perfection. And worse than that, the most important moral obligation is a vertical moral obligation. You can’t satisfy the demands of the moral law just by making your neighbor happy, while treating God like a pariah. The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love your neighbor. Even loving your neighbor requires you to tell your neighbor the truth – not just to make them feel good. The vertical relationship is more important than the horizontal one, and we’ve all screwed up the vertical relationship. We all don’t want God to be there, telling us what’s best for us, interfering with our fun. We don’t want to relate to a loving God if it means having to care what he thinks about anything that we are doing.

Who is going to pay for our rebellion?

The Christian answer to the problem of our rebellion is that Jesus takes the punishment we deserve in our place.

However, I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.

Excerpt:

The central problem of the Penal Theory is, as you point out, understanding how punishing a person other than the perpetrator of the wrong can meet the demands of justice. Indeed, we might even say that it would be wrong to punish some innocent person for the crimes I commit!

It seems to me, however, that in other aspects of human life we do recognize this practice. I remember once sharing the Gospel with a businessman. When I explained that Christ had died to pay the penalty for our sins, he responded, “Oh, yes, that’s imputation.” I was stunned, as I never expected this theological concept to be familiar to this non-Christian businessman. When I asked him how he came to be familiar with this idea, he replied, “Oh, we use imputation all the time in the insurance business.” He explained to me that certain sorts of insurance policy are written so that, for example, if someone else drives my car and gets in an accident, the responsibility is imputed to me rather than to the driver. Even though the driver behaved recklessly, I am the one held liable; it is just as if I had done it.

Now this is parallel to substitutionary atonement. Normally I would be liable for the misdeeds I have done. But through my faith in Christ, I am, as it were, covered by his divine insurance policy, whereby he assumes the liability for my actions. My sin is imputed to him, and he pays its penalty. The demands of justice are fulfilled, just as they are in mundane affairs in which someone pays the penalty for something imputed to him. This is as literal a transaction as those that transpire regularly in the insurance industry.

So, it turns out that the doctrine of substitionary atonement is not as mysterious or as objectionable as everyone seems to think it is.

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Two reasons to avoid premarital sex: trust issues and contact with exes

This is from Family Studies blog.  (H/T Brad Wilcox)

Excerpt:.

My own research with working-class young adults leads me to believe that they have basically made peace with sexual permissiveness—at least outside of marriage—even as they retain some ambivalence about it. They tend to move in quickly with new romantic partners, even as they worry that people rush too quickly into relationships. From survey data, we know that people without a college education have more lifetime sexual partners than those with a college education, and that most of them see no problem with premarital sex.

But there is one problem: easy access to sex with multiple partners can make for complicated relationships. As sexual partners accumulate, so does the potential for distrust. As one man whose ex-girlfriend had cheated on him explained, “It’s gonna take a lot more time for me to ever trust somebody again like that. I let her in quick, and now it’s never gonna happen again.” One divorced man said simply, “Everyone has to watch their ass all the time.” There is the feeling that no one is safe—even in marriage. As another young man claimed, “Nowadays, even though you got a ring on your finger, people tend to look past that.”

So people describe keeping vigilant watch over their partners’ cell phones, policing for messages from exes. They live an all but married lifestyle, yet they say that they are hesitant to make the commitment of marriage. Why? Part of the reason is that they don’t trust their partner, or themselves, to remain in the marriage. In one survey, 42.5 percent of low-income, unmarried respondents cited “worry that the marriage would end in divorce” as a reason they might not be pursuing marriage, and 23.5 percent cited “questions about whether your partner is trustworthy.” As one young man that I interviewed said after learning that his fiancée was cheating on him, “I don’t trust nobody.”

That distrust is at least partly the legacy of the libertarian sexual ethic, which assumes that sexual activity outside of marriage is typically okay so long as people are mutually consenting to the acts. And that distrust is why I have a hard time believing—as Noah Smith does—that sexual permissiveness will somehow evolve into more stable marriages for the working class. (Indeed, having more sexual partners prior to marriage is linked to greater odds of divorce, as Nicholas Wolfinger and W. Bradford Wilcox recently documented.) There is no invisible hand that will transform James and Jessica’s distrust and cynicism, which stems in part from their multiple past sexual relationships, into trust and an enduring marriage. What the working class needs—what we all need—to achieve our shared aspirations for lifelong love and a stable family is social permission to date without immediately having sex.

That’s important because today young people often assume that withholding sex is a sign of distrust. As James said, if you begin a relationship and don’t have sex, “they automatically assume that you’re cheating.”  But sliding into sex often translates into sliding into a relationship—and children—without first building trust and discerning for character and compatibility. And that slide often contributes to the erosion of trust in the opposite sex and in lifelong love. We must confront that reality if we’re serious about empowering working young adults to achieve trusting relationships.

“Withholding sex” makes it sound bad. You don’t have sex or even do sexual things before marriage because you are trying to prove to your partner that you have self-control enough that when you are married, he/she need not be concerned that you are OK with sex outside of a lifelong commitment. You restrain yourself in order to prove to the other person that you have what it takes in order to be trusted, and the other person does the same to you. It’s not that you are trying to reduce the amount of “fun” you are having, it’s that you are auditioning for a role, and this is what the other person needs to see from you during the courtship – chastity. It’s even better if your exes can produce letters of reference. I always produce letters of references from my exes and they tell the woman “you have nothing to worry about, he may push you for many, many things as he leads you, but sex isn’t one of those things”. I am very demanding about women learning and growing – just not demanding about sex. Sex is for marriage.

Usually, when a girl I court has sexual experience, it’s because she had a period when she was not a Christian. This is fine with me (it’s something that requires adjustments and some extra work). You might think because I am so demanding and judgmental, that this is an immediate disqualifier, but it’s not. What I like to do is try to lead the woman to learn apologetics, conservative ideas, how marriage works, etc. Usually what happens is that she compares me to her ex-boyfriends who were not Christians and thinks “wow! those guys had no plan for me beyond making me fulfill their sexual needs”. Which is what you can expect from a non-Christian man – they have no interest in introducing you to the Boss, and telling you what the Boss requires. That’s one of the pluses of being courted by a Christian man – we put the woman’s service to God first. We don’t push her into sex, because we find other ways for her to show that she loves us other than sex. There are a BILLION ways for a woman to show that she loves you and is interested in you without pushing her for anything sexual.

It does have a strong effect on a woman when she sees me putting my needs second, and trying to get her to learn stuff that is helpful to the Boss. I think when a woman experiences that, it’s difficult for them to go back to non-Christian men. At least, that’s my experience. The more you teach a woman about how a marriage actually runs, and what a man actually does in a marriage, the less she tends to like guys who have not prepared for marriage. Well, at least a good woman will connect the dots and adjust what kind of man she is interested in. Men are designed to be protectors, providers and moral/spiritual leaders. Although it’s tempting for a woman to go for men who don’t make demands and don’t make judgments, in the long run, it’s not good for a marriage project. It would be like stepping on a football field and preferring to talk to the guy who doesn’t take winning too seriously. He’s fun to talk to, not very demanding, but it’s not going anywhere. I think women who choose men who don’t lead or judge on purpose may feel more comfortable, but a goal-directed, demanding relationship is actually more stable.

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Does the Bible say that you should forgive someone who does not repent?

Kevin Lewis, a professor of Theology and Law at the conservative Biola University, was asked this question:

Recently, I was reading Dr. Kenneth Bailey’s “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” (IVP press 2008). When commenting on Matthew 6:12-13, he writes,

“It is a common human assumption that the violator of the rights of others must ask for forgiveness before the wronged party can be expected to accept the apology and grant forgiveness…But Jesus here asks the person wronged to forgive the one responsible for the wrongdoing when when there is no confession of guilt… There is a voice from the cross that echoes across history to all saying ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Neither Pilate nor the high priest nor the centurion offered any apology to Jesus, yet he prayed for divine forgiveness…(p.125)”

And here’s his response in full, copied with permission from his Facebook note:

Regarding Bailey’s comments on Matthew 6:12, he errs by not considering the theological context of this statement and fails to consider any implied biblical conditions for forgiveness inherent in the statement. The text simply does not mean what he says it means. He is reading too much into the statement.
Bailey states, “Jesus here asks the person wronged to forgive the one responsible for the wrongdoing when there is no confession of guilt…”

Bailey errs. Here, Jesus is giving a model for prayer commensurate with the way His Kingdom works. Jesus teaches them to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This is a statement of the objective, “forgiveness,” without a discussion of any express or implied conditions to accomplish the objective. It is also a statement of the proper attitude of the Christian, that is, that we must have a demeanor of being willing to forgive, just as God was willing to forgive us. Bailey’s assertion that there is no “confession of guilt” or repentance is merely an unwarranted assumption.

Moreover, the use of “as” (Grk. hos) in the passage introduces a comparison between the way we forgive and the way God forgives. This comparative phraseology is employed elsewhere on the subject of forgiveness. For example, Ephesians 4:32 states that we should be “forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven” us. Here, the comparative “just as” (Grk. kathos) is employed and indicates our forgiveness is to be just like God’s forgiveness of us, which flows from a loving disposition. So in the same manner that God forgives, we must forgive. We are to be “imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1). See also Matthew 5:48 and Luke 6:36 for exhortations to imitate God.

To ascertain whether the Scriptures describe any conditions for forgiveness, one must search elsewhere in the Scriptures for comment. This is the nature of systematic theology. We need to examine what the entire Bible says on a given topic, such as forgiveness. And the Bible contains ample support for the notion that there are conditions for forgiveness.

First, regarding God and His forgiveness, it is undisputed in orthodox Christian theology that God does not forgive everyone. The doctrine of Hell is a sufficient proof of the lack of universal forgiveness by God.

Next, it is clear that God does not forgive without repentance. This doctrine is taught in a number of texts. For example, in Luke 13:3 Jesus says, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In Mark 1:15 John the Baptist commands that we must “repent and believe the Gospel.” The connection between repentance and forgiveness of sins (i.e. “salvation”) is seen throughout the Scriptures. For example, in Acts 2:38 repentance is directly connected as a condition for the remission of sins. For additional examples of this connection see Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 3:19; 8:22; 17:30-31; Romans 2:4-5; II Corinthians 7:10; II Tim. 2:25-26.

So since we are to be imitators of God and forgive in the same way God forgives, we would expect the Scriptures to be consistent, stating that the condition of repentance is required to be fulfilled before believers are required to forgive each other’s sins. It does.

Jesus stated in Luke 17:3, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Here, the meaning is clear. The word “if” (Grk. ean) introduces the condition for a rebuke and for granting forgiveness. If (subjunctive) a person sins, we must (imperative) rebuke him, and if (subjunctive) he repents, we must (imperative) forgive him. This is as clear a statement as you will find on the subject. Forgiveness is conditioned upon repentance—and this is one of the same criteria that God requires before He forgives sin.

This principle of permitting believers to withhold forgiveness unless the condition of repentance is satisfied is also explicitly seen in Matthew 18:15-17. Compared with the Luke 17:3 text above, the situation is the same. If a brother sins, reprove him; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. Here, the word “reprove” is used rather than “rebuke” and the word “listen” is employed rather than “repent,” but the meaning is virtually identical to Luke 17:3. What we see in Matthew 18 is an escalation of the issue and the result if the person fails to repent (i.e. “listen”). If the person fails to repent, we are to shun him in all appropriate ways (v. 17).

These passages in Luke and Matthew give us the connection between sin, rebuke, repentance and forgiveness. Other biblical texts that merely mention “forgiveness” as a concept or an objective do not necessarily proffer every aspect of the doctrine of forgiveness. As such, they must be read in light of the clear conditions expressed in other passages.

Finally, I would make the case that it is harmful to a person to forgive him without requiring repentance. As seen above, the Bible is clear that sin requires a rebuke. Ignoring sin teaches sinners that sin does not bring consequences. This is harmful to their souls. Continuing to have the benefit of a righteous relationship with another and yet remain in sin against that person results in fostering a habituation of sinful inclinations in their soul, which God says brings about suffering and death.

Moreover, since the ultimate purpose of forgiveness is reconciliation, it is meaningless and harmful to forgive when no reconciliation may be had with the sinner. We cannot “walk together” in a biblical manner in righteous peace when the unrepentant sinner walks in unrighteousness. Necessarily, there is a conflict and a want of shalom. Their soul is headed in a different direction than the believer’s soul; they are walking away from God and we cannot have fellowship with darkness. God has no intimate fellowship with unrepentant people, and that is the model for Christians as well (See Matt. 18).

Regarding personal anger issues commonly raised by Christian psychologists, these types of psychologists unbiblically make unconditional forgiveness a part of therapy. By contrast, however, if a counselee will not forgive after the offending party has truly repented, the counselee sins, and this kind of unforgiveness may be one of the causes of his or her problems. But this is a separate issue from universal and unconditional forgiveness raised above.

Human beings in the image of God may be angry in appropriate ways (Eph.4:26, 31). There is a time to love and a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8). The notion that Christians cannot ever hate, be angry, or lack forgiveness is an unbiblical concept. God Himself is eternally angry with sin, but He is certainly not a psychological basket case. He loves, hates, and is angry in appropriate ways. Our task as believers is to imitate this. Be angry with and hate sin appropriately (Rom. 12:9) and love what good appropriately. For example, righteous anger can evolve beyond the biblical limits to become malice, slander, and bitterness while, to give another example, an appropriate love of food can evolve beyond the biblical limits into gluttony.

Psychological problems arise from many issues other than lack of forgiveness. For example, a lack of trust in God that He has a particular instance of evil under His sovereign control can cause undue anxiety in one’s life. Also, if a counselee’s self worth is grounded in the shifting sand of how others treat him (i.e., badly) rather than being grounded in the fact that he is a divine image bearer and inherently valuable no matter how badly anyone treats him, he will likely fall into anxiety, depression, and other sorts of psychological maladies. Changing the biblical doctrine of forgiveness will not truly help a counselee. It only makes it worse.

Soli Deo Gloria

I agree with Kevin, and I think it is a helpful tool for people to insist on seeing some sort of repentance and restitution from someone who wrongs you before you trust them again. If they are not even sorry for what they’ve done, and they refuse to explain why what they did is wrong, then they can’t be forgiven, and you can’t trust them again.

I think this is the key passage – Luke 17:3-4:

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

That’s Jesus speaking, there.

Also, I was having a debate with someone who disagrees with all this, and while debating with her, I thought of another example.

Luke 18:9-14:

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 

11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 

12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 

13 But the tax collector,standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 

14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

So again, no forgiveness without repentance.

Forgiveness is what happens when someone who is sinned against treats the sinner as if he had never sinned. It is not on the balance sheet. It is not brought to mind. It is not held against them in the future. The forgiver trusts the sinner again as if the previous sin had never happened.

In divine (vertical) forgiveness, there is no forgiveness without repentance. There are Bible verses above to show that.

My argument is twofold. First, there is a clear teaching of Jesus explaining the sequence of sin and forgiveness. Repentance precedes forgiveness, between humans (Luke 17:3). The verses cited by the forgive without repentance crowd don’t show the mechanics of how to forgive, they are making the point that if you want God to forgive you, you should forgive others. The parable in Luke 18:9-14 affirms this again – repentance always precedes forgiveness.

Second, we have an obligation to imitate God, and that means imitating the way he forgives those who sin against him. When I raise that with the unconditional forgiveness crowd, they want to insist that there is a difference, that the word “forgive” means different things. I’m not convinced.

Finally, I do think that forgiving someone is obligatory if they sincerely repent, and even if they screw up again and again. So long as the repentance is sincere, (like if there is restitution and a genuine effort to show an understanding how the sin affected the wronged party in writing), then forgiveness should be automatic. Depending on how bad the sin is, there maybe be more to do than just say “I’m sorry”. If the repentance is genuine, then I think the person who is sinned against must forgive, if they expect to be forgiven by God for the things they repent of.

Alan E. Kurschner adds one final point about the unconditional forgiveness view. He argues that there is serious textual doubt about the originality of Luke 23:34a, a text used by the pro-unconditional-forgiveness crowd.He has a journal article coming out on it, but a synopsis of his argument is here.

He also wrote this in a comment on this blog:

Second, on Matt 6:15, this is what I have to say. Notice the then-clause: “neither will your Father forgive your sins.” This would require universalism on the Father’s part according to the unconditional interpretation given the first half: “But if you do not forgive others their sins.” Since everyone has wronged the Father is the Father required to forgive everyone even if they are not seeking forgiveness?

So I think the case for the forgiveness being conditional on repentance is pretty strong, especially when serious harm has been caused.

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How premarital sex damages a woman’s ability to be in a relationship

Here’s an interesting article from the radically leftist New York Times to me. I was pleasantly surprised how much I agreed with it.

Excerpt:

I recently overhead two students talking in a dining hall at the university where I teach. “Yeah, I might get married, too,” one confided. “But not until I’m at least 30 and have a career.” Then she grinned. “Until then? I’m going to party it up.”

This young woman was practically following a script. An increasing number of studies show that many millennials want to marry — someday.

Generation Y is postponing marriage until, on average, age 29 for men and 27 for women. College-educated millennials in particular view it as a “capstone” to their lives rather than as a “cornerstone,” according to a report whose sponsors include the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

Yet for all of their future designs on marriage, many of them may not get there. Their romance operandi — hooking up and hanging out — flouts the golden rule of what makes marriages and love work: emotional vulnerability.

[…]Research led by the social psychologist Sara H. Konrath at the University of Michigan has shown that college students’ self-described levels of empathy have declined since 1980, especially so in the past 10 years, as quantifiable levels of self-esteem and narcissism have skyrocketed. Add to this the hypercompetitive reflex that hooking up triggers (the peer pressure to take part in the hookup culture and then to be first to unhook) and the noncommittal mind-set that hanging out breeds. The result is a generation that’s terrified of and clueless about the A B C’s of romantic intimacy.

In “The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy,” Donna Freitas chronicles the ways in which this trend is creating the first generation in history that has no idea how to court a potential partner, let alone find the language to do so.

If this fear of vulnerability began and ended with mere bumbling attempts at courtship, then all of this might seem harmless, charming even. But so much more is at stake.

During class discussions, my students often admit to hoping that relationships will simply unfold through hooking up. “After all,” one student recently said, “nobody wants to have The Talk,” the dreaded confrontation that clarifies romantic hopes and expectations. “You come off as too needy.”

This fear sets up the dicey precedent Dr. Brown warns us about: Dodging vulnerability cheats us of the chance to not just create intimacy but also to make relationships work.

Then there’s the emotional fallout of hooking up. This kind of sexual intimacy inevitably leads to becoming “emotionally empty,” writes Dr. Freitas. “In gearing themselves up for sex, they must at the same time drain themselves of feeling.”

This dynamic is about more than simply quelling nerves with “liquid courage” at college parties or clubs. It’s about swallowing back emotions that are perceived as annoying obstacles. And this can start a dangerous cycle.

“We cannot selectively numb emotions,” writes Dr. Brown. “When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”

I’ve personally observed women who had sexual histories firsthand, during my college years as an undergraduate student and graduate student. I noticed that it caused them some trouble when they were trying to see a relationship through to marriage. The more a woman chooses men purely for looks rather than husband-qualities, the more likely she is to see a bad side of men. You don’t see the good side of men when you hook up with men who are willing to have sex before marriage. If women have enough of these bad experiences with men, it gets very hard for women to continue to invest in relationships and to serve and care for men. The very things that men are looking for from women – support, empathy, understanding, trust, vulnerability – disappear from the woman, and she is left trying to get a man to commit to her using her sex appeal alone. What a scary thought. What kind of man can you land with sex alone? Not the kind that makes a good husband and father, that’s for sure.

What does the hook-up culture teach women? It teaches them to work on their educations and careers first. It teaches them to choose the best-looking men. It teaches them to worry more about what their friends will think than about what a man does in a marriage. It teaches them to turn off their emotions for fear of getting hurt. It teaches them that offering recreational sex to a man is the way to get male attention and engagement. In the old days, before feminism, women couldn’t even use sexuality to impress a man. Everything had to be done the old-fashioned way. You would hear phrases like “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. Women would look at men who were good husband candidates and think about getting their attention by cooking and helping and caring. That’s all gone now, and many women aren’t even cultivating domestic skills. Domestic skills are still very much sought after by men, although sometimes they can’t articulate their needs very well.

I asked a friend of mine who had experience dating a woman who had a sexual past about this post, and he said that past sexual relationships with good-looking, non-committal men has the same effect on women that pornography has on men. He said that it changes their expectations, so that they become more and more fixated on the man’s appearance, and less and less concerned about his ability to do husband and father tasks. Another man who also has a lot of sexual experience told me that the effect of hook-up sex on women’s perception of men would be even stronger than the effect of pornography on men. Hooking-up with men for status and fun causes a change in how women evaluate men. After all, if a wedding cermemony guarantees you “happily ever after” then why not just try to make a relationship “work out” by jumping right into bed and see if easy access to recreational sex makes the man see the value of long-term, exclusive commitment and self-sacrifice.

So we have a situation where women are not looking at what a man does in a family – working, discovering the truth, setting moral boundaries, helping others to be related to God. Instead, women are trained by the hook-up culture to think about appearances and how a good looking man will make others think about her in her social group. It seems to me to be as counterproductive as if a man were choosing computer based on how the case looked on the outside, rather than the performance and cost of the parts on the inside of the case. It makes no sense. Speaking as a man, I have a list of things that I am looking for from a woman, because I have specific goals that I want marriage to achieve. A woman’s decision and ability to hook-up with me tells me nothing about her ability to perform the tasks I need her to perform in a marriage. The antidote to the strains and stress of marriage and parenting cannot be found in a hook-up, or even in a woman’s career. That’s not going to help a husband the way a husband needs to be helped.

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Does the Bible say that you should forgive someone who does not repent?

Kevin Lewis, a professor of Theology and Law at the conservative Biola University, was asked this question:

Recently, I was reading Dr. Kenneth Bailey’s “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” (IVP press 2008). When commenting on Matthew 6:12-13, he writes,

“It is a common human assumption that the violator of the rights of others must ask for forgiveness before the wronged party can be expected to accept the apology and grant forgiveness…But Jesus here asks the person wronged to forgive the one responsible for the wrongdoing when when there is no confession of guilt… There is a voice from the cross that echoes across history to all saying ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Neither Pilate nor the high priest nor the centurion offered any apology to Jesus, yet he prayed for divine forgiveness…(p.125)”

And here’s his response in full, copied with permission from his Facebook note:

Regarding Bailey’s comments on Matthew 6:12, he errs by not considering the theological context of this statement and fails to consider any implied biblical conditions for forgiveness inherent in the statement. The text simply does not mean what he says it means. He is reading too much into the statement.
Bailey states, “Jesus here asks the person wronged to forgive the one responsible for the wrongdoing when there is no confession of guilt…”

Bailey errs. Here, Jesus is giving a model for prayer commensurate with the way His Kingdom works. Jesus teaches them to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This is a statement of the objective, “forgiveness,” without a discussion of any express or implied conditions to accomplish the objective. It is also a statement of the proper attitude of the Christian, that is, that we must have a demeanor of being willing to forgive, just as God was willing to forgive us. Bailey’s assertion that there is no “confession of guilt” or repentance is merely an unwarranted assumption.

Moreover, the use of “as” (Grk. hos) in the passage introduces a comparison between the way we forgive and the way God forgives. This comparative phraseology is employed elsewhere on the subject of forgiveness. For example, Ephesians 4:32 states that we should be “forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven” us. Here, the comparative “just as” (Grk. kathos) is employed and indicates our forgiveness is to be just like God’s forgiveness of us, which flows from a loving disposition. So in the same manner that God forgives, we must forgive. We are to be “imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1). See also Matthew 5:48 and Luke 6:36 for exhortations to imitate God.

To ascertain whether the Scriptures describe any conditions for forgiveness, one must search elsewhere in the Scriptures for comment. This is the nature of systematic theology. We need to examine what the entire Bible says on a given topic, such as forgiveness. And the Bible contains ample support for the notion that there are conditions for forgiveness.

First, regarding God and His forgiveness, it is undisputed in orthodox Christian theology that God does not forgive everyone. The doctrine of Hell is a sufficient proof of the lack of universal forgiveness by God.

Next, it is clear that God does not forgive without repentance. This doctrine is taught in a number of texts. For example, in Luke 13:3 Jesus says, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In Mark 1:15 John the Baptist commands that we must “repent and believe the Gospel.” The connection between repentance and forgiveness of sins (i.e. “salvation”) is seen throughout the Scriptures. For example, in Acts 2:38 repentance is directly connected as a condition for the remission of sins. For additional examples of this connection see Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 3:19; 8:22; 17:30-31; Romans 2:4-5; II Corinthians 7:10; II Tim. 2:25-26.

So since we are to be imitators of God and forgive in the same way God forgives, we would expect the Scriptures to be consistent, stating that the condition of repentance is required to be fulfilled before believers are required to forgive each other’s sins. It does.

Jesus stated in Luke 17:3, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Here, the meaning is clear. The word “if” (Grk. ean) introduces the condition for a rebuke and for granting forgiveness. If (subjunctive) a person sins, we must (imperative) rebuke him, and if (subjunctive) he repents, we must (imperative) forgive him. This is as clear a statement as you will find on the subject. Forgiveness is conditioned upon repentance—and this is one of the same criteria that God requires before He forgives sin.

This principle of permitting believers to withhold forgiveness unless the condition of repentance is satisfied is also explicitly seen in Matthew 18:15-17. Compared with the Luke 17:3 text above, the situation is the same. If a brother sins, reprove him; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. Here, the word “reprove” is used rather than “rebuke” and the word “listen” is employed rather than “repent,” but the meaning is virtually identical to Luke 17:3. What we see in Matthew 18 is an escalation of the issue and the result if the person fails to repent (i.e. “listen”). If the person fails to repent, we are to shun him in all appropriate ways (v. 17).

These passages in Luke and Matthew give us the connection between sin, rebuke, repentance and forgiveness. Other biblical texts that merely mention “forgiveness” as a concept or an objective do not necessarily proffer every aspect of the doctrine of forgiveness. As such, they must be read in light of the clear conditions expressed in other passages.

Finally, I would make the case that it is harmful to a person to forgive him without requiring repentance. As seen above, the Bible is clear that sin requires a rebuke. Ignoring sin teaches sinners that sin does not bring consequences. This is harmful to their souls. Continuing to have the benefit of a righteous relationship with another and yet remain in sin against that person results in fostering a habituation of sinful inclinations in their soul, which God says brings about suffering and death.

Moreover, since the ultimate purpose of forgiveness is reconciliation, it is meaningless and harmful to forgive when no reconciliation may be had with the sinner. We cannot “walk together” in a biblical manner in righteous peace when the unrepentant sinner walks in unrighteousness. Necessarily, there is a conflict and a want of shalom. Their soul is headed in a different direction than the believer’s soul; they are walking away from God and we cannot have fellowship with darkness. God has no intimate fellowship with unrepentant people, and that is the model for Christians as well (See Matt. 18).

Regarding personal anger issues commonly raised by Christian psychologists, these types of psychologists unbiblically make unconditional forgiveness a part of therapy. By contrast, however, if a counselee will not forgive after the offending party has truly repented, the counselee sins, and this kind of unforgiveness may be one of the causes of his or her problems. But this is a separate issue from universal and unconditional forgiveness raised above.

Human beings in the image of God may be angry in appropriate ways (Eph.4:26, 31). There is a time to love and a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8). The notion that Christians cannot ever hate, be angry, or lack forgiveness is an unbiblical concept. God Himself is eternally angry with sin, but He is certainly not a psychological basket case. He loves, hates, and is angry in appropriate ways. Our task as believers is to imitate this. Be angry with and hate sin appropriately (Rom. 12:9) and love what good appropriately. For example, righteous anger can evolve beyond the biblical limits to become malice, slander, and bitterness while, to give another example, an appropriate love of food can evolve beyond the biblical limits into gluttony.

Psychological problems arise from many issues other than lack of forgiveness. For example, a lack of trust in God that He has a particular instance of evil under His sovereign control can cause undue anxiety in one’s life. Also, if a counselee’s self worth is grounded in the shifting sand of how others treat him (i.e., badly) rather than being grounded in the fact that he is a divine image bearer and inherently valuable no matter how badly anyone treats him, he will likely fall into anxiety, depression, and other sorts of psychological maladies. Changing the biblical doctrine of forgiveness will not truly help a counselee. It only makes it worse.

Soli Deo Gloria

I agree with Kevin, and I think it is a helpful tool for people to insist on seeing some sort of repentance and restitution from someone who wrongs you before you trust them again. If they are not even sorry for what they’ve done, and they refuse to explain why what they did is wrong, then they can’t be forgiven, and you can’t trust them again.

I think this is the key passage – Luke 17:3-4:

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

That’s Jesus speaking, there.

Also, I was having a debate with someone who disagrees with all this, and while debating with her, I thought of another example.

Luke 18:9-14:

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 

11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 

12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 

13 But the tax collector,standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 

14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

So again, no forgiveness without repentance.

Forgiveness is what happens when someone who is sinned against treats the sinner as if he had never sinned. It is not on the balance sheet. It is not brought to mind. It is not held against them in the future. The forgiver trusts the sinner again as if the previous sin had never happened.

In divine (vertical) forgiveness, there is no forgiveness without repentance. There are Bible verses above to show that.

My argument is twofold. First, there is a clear teaching of Jesus explaining the sequence of sin and forgiveness. Repentance precedes forgiveness, between humans (Luke 17:3). The verses cited by the forgive without repentance crowd don’t show the mechanics of how to forgive, they are making the point that if you want God to forgive you, you should forgive others. The parable in Luke 18:9-14 affirms this again – repentance always precedes forgiveness.

Second, we have an obligation to imitate God, and that means imitating the way he forgives those who sin against him. When I raise that with the unconditional forgiveness crowd, they want to insist that there is a difference, that the word “forgive” means different things. I’m not convinced.

Finally, I do think that forgiving someone is obligatory if they sincerely repent, and even if they screw up again and again. So long as the repentance is sincere, (like if there is restitution and a genuine effort to show an understanding how the sin affected the wronged party in writing), then forgiveness should be automatic. Depending on how bad the sin is, there maybe be more to do than just say “I’m sorry”. If the repentance is genuine, then I think the person who is sinned against must forgive, if they expect to be forgiven by God for the things they repent of.

UPDATE: Alan E. Kurschner comments (below) and I reproduce it here:

Hi Wintery,

Thanks for your article. I have a couple of comments.

Luke 23:34a is often a trump card for the unconditional forgiveness crowd. However, there is serious textual doubt to its originality. I will have a forthcoming journal article on this textual variant, but you can read a synopsis of the argument that I made here:

http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2013/03/16/from-the-lips-of-jesus-or-a-scribal-hand-father-forgive-them-for-they-do-not-know-what-they-are-doing-2/

I do not know if Lewis is aware of this textual variant. I would encourage him to look into it.

Second, on Matt 6:15, this is what I have to say. Notice the then-clause: “neither will your Father forgive your sins.” This would require universalism on the Father’s part according to the unconditional interpretation given the first half: “But if you do not forgive others their sins.” Since everyone has wronged the Father is the Father required to forgive everyone even if they are not seeking forgiveness?

I hope that helps,

Alan K.

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