Forgiveness Vs. Conversion

On numerous occasions and in various circumstances, forgiveness is extended to people who have committed some offense and perhaps have even broken God’s Laws. One noteworthy occasion was when Jesus asked for forgiveness of His Father for those carrying out His crucifixion.

In that particular situation, Jesus asked, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Now, this not knowing considers what we should probably identify as ‘profound ignorance.’ We could wonder how such people could possibly not know that what they were doing was sin, or unjust at least. Also, in how many situations would ignorance be an acceptable excuse? If it were legitimate, people would use it as an excuse all the time.

Ignorance Isn’t a Valid Excuse!

But the ‘ignorance factor’ is interesting in that so many times and in so many situations, people act in relative ignorance of what they are doing or thinking of doing and its implications. But is ignorance of the Law any excuse? Not usually!

Using the term forgiveness, we assume it refers to a sin that was committed. Would it also apply to an action that wouldn’t necessarily be considered a sin? For instance, carrying out a legally authorized execution would not be either a sin or a criminal offense. What the situation was with the crucifixion, as far as the soldiers knew, was that it was duly authorized. It wasn’t their jurisdiction to pass judgment; it only was their duty to carry out their assigned tasks. So, what did they need to be forgiven of? We need to know that answer.

Forgiven of What?

That raises the question of what it was Jesus was asking them to be forgiven of? Wouldn’t His request be that no-fault be accrued to them for their actions? It didn’t apply to other sins that they might have committed before or after, only for the present offense! It wasn’t a blanket pardon for all time. Nor should we assign the request to other people not involved.

Conversion is a Separate Issue

But, let’s assume that Jesus’ request was granted. How did that factor into the conversion status of the ‘offenders’? Does forgiveness itself equate to conversion? If a person is forgiven, does it mean that conversion carries with it? It should be obvious that the two are not mutually inclusive!

So, can unconverted people be forgiven and how broad ranging would that forgiveness be?

It would appear that the answer to this question is yes! People can be forgiven (at least of specific acts) who are not converted, yet whose spiritual situation is not changed by that act of forgiveness.

That would indicate that forgiveness can be granted in certain instances, but that doesn’t mean that the person becomes converted by such grace being extended! This should present a profound consideration that we should allow to factor into our thinking: that forgiveness does not automati-cally equate to conversion.

Blissfully Unaware?

We don’t even know if a recipient of the forgive-ness even knows of or acknowledges what he’s done. There was no request on the part of the perpetrators. The religious leaders and soldiers involved in the crucifixion apparently were unaware of Jesus’ request made on their behalf! Now, that injects another consideration. If the recipients weren’t even aware that God then forgave them of this act, who benefitted?

How many times did God forgive specific nations or individuals where their converted status didn’t factor in? Think of Nineveh in the days of Jonah. That city repented and was forgiven so that what God had intended to do to them was withheld. But it had nothing to do with any of the Ninevites actually becoming converted. Just because God extends His mercy toward a people or an individual, that doesn’t automatically indicate that they’re converted. Nor does one act of gracious forgiveness grant a person immunity for any future infractions or offenses.

The act of forgiveness always accrues to the person extending the forgiveness. The recipient is extended a grace – usually undeserved – by the one who was wronged. Forgiveness is a greater act than repentance. (It’s greater to give than to receive, which applies here as well.) Jesus’ admonition regarding an attitude of forgiveness is perhaps more important to us than it is to those who might have offended us. Matthew 12:14 & 15: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Should we expect forgiveness if we ourselves aren’t a forgiving type?

Healing of the Afflicted

Another area of consideration involves people who are suffering from physical ailments. Perhaps a result of some health ‘sin’ or perhaps not. Mark 2:5 explains: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” Now, in this case, having the palsy is not the fault of the afflicted person. And, it may not even have been hereditary, which some back then assigned such issues as a reflection of something the parents or the individual himself did. But, still, Jesus equated it to a sin of some sort.

But did this act of forgiveness depend on or result in the recipient becoming converted? We have no indication that that outcome was involved in these cases.

Luke 7 relates a situation that is noteworthy: “And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, (v.37) “And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.” (v.44-48)

Luke continues: “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.” (Lk. 7:47-48)

How would we evaluate this? Was she seen asking for forgiveness, or is His regard toward her a reflection of her attitude toward Him? Does our forgiveness relate to our regard toward Christ?

The GRACE Factor

When it comes to conversion, there’s no argument that faith is involved. With forgiveness, some degree of faith is also involved, as it’s often mentioned. While we may expect that forgiveness of sins is universally extended to anyone, yet this passage gives pause to that idea. It suggests the ability to see and perceive godly revelations is a gift in and of itself! “That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” (Mark 4:12) Jesus was explaining here that He knows the person’s heart and motivation and excludes some from being able to understand at this time. (Their day will come, however.)

James adds to this: “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” (Jas. 5:15 )

The point here is that we shouldn’t equate someone’s being forgiven for indicating that they’re converted at that point. God is more gracious toward people than we might be. He considers things in a broader timeframe. We don’t know when a person is to be ‘called,’ but He does.

© Rich Traver

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