What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness and Reconciliation?

What does the Bible say about forgiveness and reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:18

What does the Bible say about forgiveness and reconciliation? It’s the right question to ask because of all the places to look, the Bible is absolutely jammed packed with relevant information regarding the connection between forgiveness and reconciliation.

What’s the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation? Must you always reconcile to forgive? Do you need both people to choose forgiveness for it to occur? Do you need both people to choose to be reconciled? The Bible answers all of these questions about forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Bible Says Forgiveness and Reconciliation Are Connected but Are Not the Same

The Bible commands that we must always forgive people their wrongs against us no matter how great the offense. We have always sinned against God more than others have sinned against us, and since God offers his forgiveness regardless of our offenses he expects us to do the same (Matthew 18:21-35).

You can forgive people who have hurt you deeply but sometimes it is not always possible or right to reconcile with abusive, hurtful, or unrepentant people. The Bible says forgiveness is a choice one individual came make without the consent of another. The Bible also says, however, that reconciliation needs two parties to both agree on forgiveness and the restoration of the relationship.

According to the Bible, you can have forgiveness without reconciliation. However, you cannot have reconciliation without forgiveness.

I believe the Bible basically puts forgiveness and reconciliation into at least three categories: Full forgiveness plus full reconciliation. Full forgiveness plus partial reconciliation. Full forgiveness with no reconciliation.

The common denominator is always full forgiveness. The variable is to what level reconciliation is glorifying to God and safe for those involved.

The Bible Says Forgiveness Plus Full Reconciliation Is Not Always Right

As I explain in the article called, “How to Forgive Your Attacker,” it is crucial to realize that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same in the Bible. Not only are they different, sometimes it is unwise and continues to promote more sin and abuse when full reconciliation is granted in unbiblical ways:

One reason forgiving those who continue to assault us is often resisted is because forgiveness is confused with reconciliation. Does God call us to rejoin a relationship that would only continue in abuse?  Are we called to endlessly subject ourselves to hurtful treatment or else not be considered a Christian?

Questions like these occur when forgiveness and reconciliation are confused. God always calls every Christian to forgive others, but God does not call us to always be reconciled. Forgiveness can be done in your heart between you and God. Reconciliation must involve the willful choice of two people or parties.

Additionally, it is against Scripture to reconcile with people who claim to be Christians and yet refuse to repent in action of the sins you have pointed out to them (Matthew 18:171 Corinthians 5:12-13). When people are retaliatory, threatening, a risk to you, a risk to others, or someone is consistently living in a way contrary to the Scriptures, it is your biblical obligation to forgive while not reconciling.

To reconcile with a rebel is to endorse their sin and further encourage it. Once you warn them, discipline them, and they still don’t listen, the blood is not on your hands and you must move on for your sake and theirs (Ezekiel 3:17-19).

We must always love, but love comes in many different expressions. Love is doing what is best for the person’s long-term, eternal good. If you reconcile with someone who is walking in abusive behavior towards you, you are harming yourself and that person further. You can hug people to hell. God disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6). God removes his favor and presence when people persist in sin to help them come to their senses. He expects Christians to do the same for the sake of the sinner. To reconcile with someone walking in unrepentance is the most unloving thing you can do for him or her.”

The basic rule of thumb when it comes to reconciliation is do what will bring the most glory to God while also promoting the most healing for the human hearts in involved.

The Bible Says to Use Wisdom, Thus Full Forgiveness and a Partial Reconciliation Is Sometimes the Best Choice

Throughout the Bible we are called to forgive and reconcile as much as possible. If you can reconcile but choose not to simply because you are still bitter, this is sin and a sign that you probably have not forgiven either.

Wisdom, however, is also called for throughout the Bible. We should always obey God’s word, therefore we should always forgive and reconcile when possible. When you add wisdom to this equation, it also seems appropriate to clarify that you can be reconciled while still not restoring the relationship to the exact place it formally was before the offense took place.

Some situations don’t allow for any reconciliation to occur. Other situations can lead to a full restoration where the relationship is exactly how it was before the offense occurred. Wisdom says there is a middle ground where two people can fully forgive one another and do their best to be reconciled as much as possible, knowing full well that the relationship will probably never be exactly what it once was.

If such damage was done, if the trust was broken so terribly, or too much time has passed for things to ever be normal again, does this mean you should not reconcile at all? Definitely not. Any restoration is better than none. To have unity even if the relationship is not as strong as it once was is still more glorifying to God than two bitter parties who hate each other, or even two apathetic parties who are willing to forgive but don’t have the energy to reconcile to the fullest degree possible.

The Bible Says that Full Forgiveness and Full Reconciliation Are Possible

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul hands a man over to Satan so he will come to his senses. But in 2 Corinthians 2, Paul is eager to a restore man he formally instructed the church to discipline. The point of separation and discipline is always restoration.

God’s desire is for Christians to experience both full forgiveness and full reconciliation. This is not always possible on earth, but surely it is more possible than it actually occurs. Few things express the power of the gospel than two sinners forgiving and reconciling completely.

So what does the Bible say about forgiveness and reconciliation? Always forgive while reconciling to the fullest degree possible.

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