The Conditions of Forgiveness
God’s forgiveness is conditioned on our ability to forgive others (Matt. 6:14f). The unforgiving heart is of necessity a heavy heart. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” That is, the forgiving will be forgiven.
Another condition for forgiveness is that men may preach forgiveness only through the name of Christ; that is, by His authority.
The apostle Peter said to Cornelius, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43). The apostle John wrote, “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for His sake” (I John 2:12). The apostle Paul preached, “Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:38). “In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:14).
The forgiveness of sins is conditioned upon the blood of the covenant. “For this is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). The conditions of forgiveness are emphatically and repeatedly discussed in the Book of Acts. The various accounts of conversion teach that faith, repentance, confession, and baptism are all prerequisites to forgiveness. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us” (Eph. 1:7f).
Forgiveness is conditioned upon repentance. Complete and absolute forgiveness is conditioned on complete and absolute repentance. Notice how closely repentance and forgiveness are tied together in the New Testament: “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4); “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47; cf. Acts 2:38); “God highly exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). God’s forgiveness is unalterably tied to man’s repentance.
Forgiveness is also conditioned upon confession. For adequate forgiveness to take place, there must be adequate confession. Confession is not complaining. It is not blaming other people. Confession is not substitution. It is not replacing a bad deed with a good one. Confession is not plea-bargaining. It is not pleading guilty to a lesser charge. Confession is not camouflage. It is not exhibitionism or boasting. Real confession is cleansing for the soul. It is catharsis. It cleanses the emotions. Confession is not the cure for the problem; it is only the admission that the problem exists. The goal of confession is to receive forgiveness and not to develop the details of the sin. Forgiveness requires humility but not humiliation.
Genuine confession has a sound Biblical basis: “They were baptized in the Jordan confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6); “Many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices” (Acts 19:18; cf. I John 1:9f; Jas. 5:16).
Finally, forgiveness is conditional upon reconciliation (Matt. 18:15-17). If a private meeting fails to bring about forgiveness, then arbitrators are to be consulted. Arbitrators are not to take sides. They are not to prove a point, but they are to help in the process of reconciliation. Reconciliation means to bring back harmony, to end alienation, and to begin a brand-new relationship. If this meeting also fails, the personal matter is to be brought before the church. And if this third meeting does not succeed, then the effort is to be abandoned as hopeless until there is an attitude change. This then becomes a condition for forgiveness.