Forgiveness has a vertical and a horizontal dimension

“In addition to this parable, the Bible is full of calls to forgive. There are two that almost seen contradictory: Mark 11:25 and Luke 17:3. Mark 11:25 says. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Luke 17:3 says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” Mark 11:25 seems to say that we are to forgive someone no matter, while Luke 17:3 seems to say that you only forgive someone if he repents. Which one of these verses is right? They’re both right!

The verses are talking about forgiveness as a heart attitude before God. The context is worship. When I consider someone’s sins as I stand before the Lord, I am called to have an attitude of forgiveness toward the person who sinned against me. This is non-negotiable. I do not have the right to withhold forgiveness and harbour bitterness in my heart. Luke 17:3, on the other hand, is talking about forgiveness as a horizontal transaction between me and the offender. This is often referred to a reconciliation. The point of Luke 17:3 makes is that, while I am to have an attitude of forgiveness before the Lord, I can only grant forgiveness to the other person if he repents and admits he has sinned against me. Even if he never does this, I am called to maintain an attitude of forgiveness toward the offender. The vertical aspect of forgiveness is unconditional, but the horizontal aspect depends upon the offender admitting guilt and asking for forgiveness.

This means that Grace can say to John, “Before the Lord, I have forgiven you and I will  not make you pay for what you have done.” But she can only grant forgiveness to John and pursue reconciliation if he admits he has sinned and asks her for forgiveness. This is here the Bible is so realistic and nuanced. These two dimensions bring clarity to what it means to forgive. Grace may long for reconciliation between her and John. She can pave the way for reconciliation as she practices an attitude of forgiveness. But ultimately she cannot make reconciliation happen. For Grace, the vertical aspect of forgiveness is never optional, but she can’t single-handedly bring about reconciliation. ”

Excerpt from chapter on Forgiveness from “Relationships – a mess worth making” by Paul Tripp

LT Hopper served as the Senior Pastor at Lakeshore Church from 2007-2015.

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