What Does True Forgiveness Look Like?
This begins (Matthew 18:15-22) by saying if your brother sins against you, go to him alone, privately—tell him about it. If the person repents, you’ve won your brother. If he refuses to repent then you go with one or two other witnesses. And if they still refuse to repent, then you go and bring the proceedings of the church. And if they still refuse to repent, then they are to be to you as a heathen. That is, this is the recipe for excommunication. There is only one sin for which anybody is ever excommunicated in the body of Christ, and that sin is impenitence for the sin that brought you under discipline in the first place.
There are multitudes of sins that could cause the church to become involved seeking your repentance. But only if you persist in impenitence can it lead actually to being cut off from the body of Christ. So I mentioned that this is the context in which Peter raises the question, so that if somebody sins against Peter, and he goes and sees that person, and the person repents and Peter forgives him, then Peter is asking the question, “How many times do I have to do this? Seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven, but up to seventy times seven.” As many as it takes! In other words, when I forgive somebody who has sinned against me, what does it mean to forgive them? If I say “I forgive you,” that’s a very weighty pronouncement. When God forgives you, He holds that sin against you no more. And if you sin again against Him and He forgives you again, He doesn’t say, “That’s two…” because the first one has already been wiped away.
And that’s what we don’t do. Somebody sins against us, asks for our forgiveness, we give our forgiveness, they do it again and we say, “That’s two…” which reveals that we didn’t really forgive them the first time. Because if we really grant forgiveness, we are saying, “I remember this against you no more.”