Guys, some people assume that if God’s forgiveness comes before repentance, everybody is saved and we have little reason to preach the gospel. I do not believe that everybody is saved. I don’t equate forgiveness with salvation. Forgiveness is what makes salvation possible. I know this is a complex subject and what I share may bring up many more questions. However, I’d like to share a few scriptural reasons that I believe God forgives before people repent. One of the reasons I feel this is important is that it changes the way we relate to unbelievers, helping us to share the gospel with them and bring them to salvation.
Forgiveness And Healing
Scripture shares the story of a paralytic in Mark chapter 2. Jesus was speaking in a crowded house, and four of the paralytic’s friends made a hole in the roof and lowered him into the middle of the crowd….
Mark 2:5-12 (NVSV) When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Note the connection between healing and forgiveness. Healing is a demonstration of God’s forgiveness. Jesus considered it proof of his authority to forgive sins.
This passage says nothing about the paralytic repenting or saying anything before Jesus proclaimed that he was forgiven. Did he first repent in his heart and then Jesus told him he was forgiven? Scripture doesn’t say. However, consider the story of the invalid at the pool of Bethesda in John chapter 5.
The invalid had been lying at the pool, sick for 38 years. Jesus approached him and asked if he wanted to be made well. Then Jesus told him to stand up, take his mat, and walk. The invalid was healed instantly. Jesus encountered him again later.
John 5:13-15 (NIV) The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
This invalid didn’t even know who Jesus was. As we saw in Mark chapter 2, Jesus considered healing a demonstration of God’s forgiveness. Jesus healed the invalid first, and then later commanded him to repent.
Does God Command Us To Forgive Before Or After Somebody Apologizes To Us?
I think most of you would agree that we should forgive those who sin against us even if they have not repented or apologized. Why would we think that God does any less? What is right for us is right because it’s God’s nature.
What did Jesus say on the cross?
Luke 23:34 (NIV) Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus didn’t wait for his enemies to repent to extend forgiveness. He forgave them as they were still crucifying him. And Jesus and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
Stephen did the same as the Sanhedrin was stoning him.
Acts 7:59-60 (NIV) While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Why Forgiveness And Salvation Are Not The Same
Peter later preached to those who crucified Jesus. He did proclaim their sin to them. But he proclaimed God’s forgiveness, before they had repented. Then he commanded them to repent. And they did.
Acts 3:13-23 (NIV) The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see. “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
Scripture is clear that Jesus had already forgiven his murderers, even as they were killing him. But why did Peter say “Repent, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out?”
A person can be forgiven and continue to sin, and the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) Forgiveness alone does not wipe the sin off the slate of men’s hearts. Forgiveness alone does not bring a man from death to life, and from the kingdom of darkness into the light. You can be forgiven and still dead in your sins, controlled by the power of sin, and blind to God’s truth.
God’s forgiveness makes salvation possible. Salvation is coming to know God as a participant in his nature. (John 17:3)Men must still respond to God’s forgiveness with repentance and faith in God. It’s only when people respond to that forgiveness that God’s power, through the gospel, wipes out the sin in their hearts and transforms their nature.
1 John 2:2 (NIV) He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Romans 3:23 (NRSV) whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.
Romans 3:23 (NET) God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith.
Jesus extended forgiveness as he died for the whole world, but His sacrifice is effective through faith. Men must still put their faith in Him to go from death to life. He is the mercy seat for all men, but men must come.
1 Timothy 4:10 (NIV) That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.
God is the savior of all, because He has done all necessary to save every man. A drowning man still must take the hand offered to him. Many reject the Savior, like a wounded animal biting that hand that would help. That is why God is “especially” the savior of those who believe.
Next week we’ll talk about how our perspective on this affects our ability to minister to non-Christians and to have faith for the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives.